Racism, Bedongs, Popsicles, and Hippopotamuses

Every year on March 21 the United Nations has the UN Day Against Racism. I realize I am a few days late in posting this, but I can honestly blame lack of internet access. Plus, the day isn’t the important factor, but rather taking the initiative to start a discussion about the topic. Shedding light on something, sadly, we have all started to consider normal, and just accept.

The inspiration for this section comes from some recent reading I’ve done. The first quote comes from a TIME Magazine article in the October 23, 2017 edition. (Shout out to my aunts for sending me these!) The article was about Star War’s actor, Boyega. He stated,

“I embrace all people but I do not embrace racists. I despise racists. Do they know how dumb it is to waste brain cells on taking issue with the amount of melanin in someone’s skin?”

The more I am in Senegal, the more I realize that racism in the world is not yet extinguished. And, the more I am upset by this. The more irrational it seems.

Then, the topic was brought up again in the book I just finished, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. (This book is not a book about racism only. Its storyline is multifaceted and although written long ago, many lines in the book are more than relevant today. I HIGHLY recommend this book! And, would love to discuss it with anyone who reads it or has read it.) I am going to list some quotes that which I think are worth reading and thinking about.

“Racism is a primary force of evil designed to destroy good men.” (Courtenay, 265)

“Silence breeds guilt in other people. That it is fun to persecute a pig because it squeals, no fun at all to beat an animal which does not cry out.”  (Courtenay, 348)

“Racism does not diminish with brains. It’s a disease, a sickness. It may incubate in ignorance, but it doesn’t necessarily disappear with the gaining of wisdom!”  (Courtenay, 456)

“Success of any sort seems to break down social barriers.” (Courtenay, 461)



Life carrying on as usual in my road town, 30km from village, where I go to get my mail and buy fruit. 

“It is the human experience, particularly true of the young, that all routine, no matter how bizarre, soon becomes normal procedure.” (Courtenay, 493)

So, I am here in Senegal getting more and more used to this bizarre life.


Explaining SMART goals to teenage boys.

Peace Corps Senegal has a group of volunteers that make up the SENEGAD organization which promotes Gender and Development. To celebrate March 8th’s International Women’s Day, they organized a competition amongst volunteers. We are challenged to spend the month thinking about and promoting Gender and Development and according to the organization, “to design, implement, and share gender and youth development activities.”

This challenge coincided with some activities I had planned prior to knowing about the competition. I have been working the past few months on starting youth groups. I have two groups currently, one comprised of teenage girls, the other of teenage boys. Each group has members 12+ in age. The girl’s group focuses on health topics and health education. The boys chose to learn about leadership.


I want to highlight one of the boys in my group. His name is Salute. For those who know French, Salute can be used as a greeting amongst friends. And, I must say he is quite welcoming- a perfectly named individual.

After my first meeting with my girls’ group, several young men approached me to inquire why only the girls got a group. Honestly, I didn’t have an answer. Personally, I wanted to see if the group would be successful and also thought a smaller number of people in the group would make it more manageable. But, the boys really seemed interested. Salute was persistent and I told him if he invited everyone and decided a time and date to meet, we could see about a group for boys. Not only did he do this, he has continued to rise above. He is a young teenager and more selfless and concerned about his community than anyone else I have ever met at his age.

After our meeting about SMART goals, he began frequently bringing me notebook pages filled with complex goals he has to fix problems he sees in our village. He asked me to save them for him and to help him decide on action plans. I could go on, but I am paying for every minute of internet I use currently so I should move on.

I leave you with a picture of his brilliant smile. His smile is honestly what first made me approach him and strike a conversation in village.


Clearly, or not so much, I am not a camera pro yet. 



Next, I am going to highlight a few women who deserve the highest praise and recognition for many reasons. If you’ve been following along with my sporadic posts, you know I don’t speak about homesickness. I moved out of the United States over one year ago. I don’t write about homesickness because I don’t have it. Why? How? That seems bizarre! Well, these women are part of the reason, my village is the other part. I left my family in the states, and if I wasn’t embraced fully by my community, becoming an honorary member of every single household, I think I would be having a much more difficult time. These women in particular make my life every day better.

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My first day in village (May 10, 2017) the woman in my village held a huge dance part in my honor. This picture shows 1/5 of the crowd. 

Meet Kollé, my host sister.


We share a house in village. She taught me a lot when I first came to site- let me tell you there are far more differences than similarities in how we clean bathrooms here. Above all, she is my friend.

This picture is the first day I came back to village after an extended amount of time away. She had saved me lunch and brought it to my room for me. Most recently, she helped me host a dinner party. Many friends who study in other towns came home for their Easter break. I hosted a dinner party and Kollé made it happen. She prepared a delicious meal for all 7 of us. Not to mention, she is a fashionista and sometimes after she gets a new outfit, I go to her tailor with my fabric and tell him to make me exactly what he made for Kollé.

Meet Tabara.


Snagged this snapshot just as she was returning home after doing her lunch dishes in the lake.

She gave birth to my sidekick Ousmane, the adorable little boy featured in many pictures already and expected to be featured in many upcoming blog, Instagram, and Facebook posts. So, that basically makes her essential in my life because I don’t know what I would do without the daily ‘Adventures of Ousmane’ which never fail keep me laughing.

Meet Marème Thiam.


Just as Meredith had Christina and Batman had Robin, I have Marème Thiam. This woman is actually too remarkable for words. She is an actual angel sent from the heavens.

I almost feel bad for her children as they, by force, have to participate and attend every program I have in village. This, I think, shows her devotion to helping me with my work. If I am having any problem at all, she is there. Here is a picture she had me take because she wanted to be sure my mom in America saw how pretty my outfit was.

Not only is she my mentor, my person, and my family, she also is so admirable. Her children, boys and girls alike know how to cook and do their laundry. This is RARE. Men here do not typically know how to do laundry or cook. She is a wonder woman I tell you.



If you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, I don’t think we will ever take normal pictures.

I had another visitor, but let us direct our attention to the lake in the background as it is pertinent to this next segment.

As hot season is starting, the lake in my backyard looks more and more tempting. I long to go for a good, long swim on a hot day.  Especially as I watch so many children frolicking in the water.

To this day, I have yet to go in. Why? Well, the lake causes many cases of schistosomiasis so going in is just asking for a diagnosis. Further, I once saw a pretty scary, large snake skimming the surface. Alas, I have started researching just how bad schistosomiasis can be. I was reconsidering my decision to stay out of the lake. Then, a bunch of village children started asking me if I saw “lebear.” The what? I had never heard this word. I kept asking, then after some time, I finally pieced together what they were asking. The kids wanted to know if I had seen the hippopotamus?!?!?!? What!?!

Ok, decision re-solidified. I am staying out of that murky water. But, I do want to stay just near enough to the water’s edge to snag a snapshot of the gigantic animal if it reappears. (Did you know how fast these animals are on land? Or, that they kill more people than sharks?)


And, as we are talking about decisions and changed decisions, I feel compelled to admit a tremendous recent discovery. Quick refresher, I have a really hard time making simple decisions- blue pen or black pen, water or milk, this restaurant or that restaurant? Well, I just found out that one of the places I frequently go to has two popsicles in one. No more choosing which flavor I want, this has both! Now, my life is so much easier.

This week, I hosted a competition among children in my town. My objective was to clean bedongs. These are containers which we store water in. We use this water for cooking, cleaning, baithing, and drinking. I’ve noticed that often times that inside these containers, we are storing more than just water. We are providing a wonderful environment for multicolored algae, bacteria, mold. So, I hosted a week long competition among children 10+ for the first week of their two week Easter break from school. The turnout was huge! (Mostly because of the allure of a gift for the team of boys and girls that cleaned the most bedongs.)

In 5 days, we cleaned 225 bedongs. And let me tell you, it is not easy work.

I thought I would share some pictures of this project.


The inside of this should be off-white like the outside of the container. See that black and green sludge on inside? It has to be good for your health, right? By the time we used bleach, soap, leaves, sticks, water, rocks and shook it and shook it and shook it some more, the insides of each of these were all but sparkling.


I trusted a teenage boy with the task of taking photos of the event. The result: I got some great pictures of everyone working and also, a lot of pictures of the soccer game happening right next to where we were cleaning bedongs.


First, I would write down every person’s name that came to the event and which team they were on. Then, I would write down how many bedongs they brought and who owned each bedong. (Miraculously, we returned each identical-looking bedong to their correct homes!) After this, I would divvy out bleach and soap for each belong. (I am glad I waited until day three to look up the effects of bleach on your skin for prolonged periods of time… had I looked any earlier I may have cut this program short for the sake of my future hand modeling career.)


A forced fake smile while being pulled in all directions by all the kids at my event. 

And this accurately depicts how the program actually went. See how many kids are touching me in this picture? Now there are about 5 kids not shown who are also yelling my name for me to come and check that their bedong is clean before they rinse out the soap. Then, there are the bedongs being thrust into my face to get soap and bleach. Not to dismiss that there is at least one person braiding or touching my hair throughout the whole event, too.


Benn At Ba Pare:One Year Already

A year ago I was stressing about what to pack, making many trips to pick up things on my packing list, hosting goodbye parties, and quitting my job.

Still, I am stressing about what to pack. Whenever I have a training to go to or a meeting in another town, I try to hone my inner Senegalese and cram everything into a messenger bag. 99% of the time it doesn’t fit and I am defeated. Whenever traveling, I always am well aware of my American tendency to overpack. Especially, when all around me everyone else will be traveling for a weekend, a week, or longer and they will only have two handbags filled. People moving to college will move into their dorms with one duffel bag or suitcase and a backpack! WHAT? How do you do that?

At the end of November, there was a religious celebration. 80% of my town piled into cars and we caravanned the 5-6 hours to the holy city of Tiwawan. We spent 3-4 days here. The night before I left I decided I wasn’t going to overpack. I knew I had packed too many outfits. So, I called in my two teenage host sisters. I had them look at what I was planning to pack and asked what was unnecessary. They said I would need ALL of it, and even suggested I bring extra outfits. It is a lost cause; I guess my bag will just always be bigger than everyone else’s. I don’t know how everyone else packs just as much into little bags. But, I was glad I did ask for their packing help, turns out everyday was like a fashion show. We changed at least 2 times with each outfit getting fancier than the last. There are lots of photos of me on other people’s phones. But, I actually only have one picture, posted below.


Why is my smile even bigger than normal? See that bag in my left hand? The lady standing behind me gifted me these Senegalese Donuts and she is THE BEST BAKER in all of Senegal!

As far as other components of my life having changed since last year at this time….well, lets just say I am still making multiple trips to the store. My mother always told me growing up if my head wasn’t attached I would forget it. I have always had the tendency to leave my house, room, apartment only to return moments later to grab something I’d forgotten- car keys, wallet, school books, phone, etc. That hasn’t changed here.

I recently addressed over 50 envelopes. I decided before giving them out I would take a picture to remind myself in the future I WILL NOT self address invitations to a big event like a wedding. It takes so much time! I laid half the invitations on the floor to get a pic. I left my room to deliver the invites, walked 50 meters from my room, then remembered half of them were still on the floor of my room. No joke, as I am preparing to post this, a place with internet, I realized I forgot the SIM card to my camera, with the picture of these beautiful envelopes in my room, hours away…case in point.

Am I hosting goodbye parties? No, thank goodness! I am not ready to leave yet! But, I have been busy hosting a guest, and preparing to host several more! And, I’ve been busy preparing for an event I plan to host once a month to talk to adolescent girls about different health topics. So, still an active event planner here just minus brunch reservations and cake orders.


Lindsey and I in Dakar holding small plastic bags. These are filled with filtered water. They can be purchased nearly everywhere- as there are plenty of tiny convenient stores in every town and village. So, it is very easy to find filtered water to drink here! And, it is cheap, cheap, cheap!


Sand, sand, sand EVERYWHERE!


It took me a year to learn but I can finally tie the headpieces…yes, I tied both of ours!

Also, here is a video my first guest and I made to document her trip. I am sharing it because I think it gives a good glimpse of Senegal. Having a guest has many perks, such as someone to capture candid moments in my daily life. The video only has locations mentioned so I will briefly summarize some of the things I find interesting for you. (The numbers correspond to the timepoint in the video.)


  • 1:11 After the pictures of the Mosque in Tiwawan, there is a photo of Lindsey and I holding tiny cups- these are filled with Attaya, the tea everyone in Senegal drinks on the regular.
  • 5:00 This is possibly my favorite meal- a fried fish and onion sauce, with potatoes and carrots, atop a bed of white rice.
  • 5:11 We went to the field to help my family plant their onions. Pretty sure Lindsey and I both still have thorns in our fingers. It was hard work I tell you!
  • 6:17 This very long section of mural making shows that murals take more time than you’d think. That, mixed with perfectionist tendencies, has yielded this mini-project taking up a substantial amount of time in this video.
  • 8:06 Yes, he is always this excited to see me. My favorite little friend in village!
  • 8:10 The Senegalese popsicle. It is frozen fruit juice, plus lots of sugar, but oh so refreshing on hot days.
  • 8:50 Yes, I am still happy I learned how to sew in high school. Turns out, it is still relevant in my daily life.
  • 10:38 Using materials brought from the USA, we showed my family how to make s’mores and explained it is a common thing to cook around fires in America.
  • 11:19 This is what money in Senegal looks like.
  • 13:43 Lindsey couldn’t get used to littering…then this swayed her decision.


Quite the contrary to quitting my job one year ago, I am finally hitting my stride in my current job as a Peace Corps Volunteer. My language is finally at the point where people don’t constantly ask me to repeat what I am trying to say. I can actually converse and thus can discuss health topics, host programs, and work on projects. Several are underway, and several more are in the works for the future!

As I just gave my host sister a piece of American chewing gum I reflect on how much I have grown in this country. People are inquisitive here. If you are eating something, ‘what are you eating’ if something looks unfamiliar ‘what is that’. It’s a way to make conversation. For me, it is a way to share aspects of my culture and learn aspects of this culture.

The packaging of my Trident brand cinnamon flavored chewing gum was unfamiliar to my 10-year-old sister. As I answered yet another, ‘what is this’ question, I remember back to when I didn’t know very much of anything in Senegal. As an unworldly, naïve young American, when I first came to Senegal, I remember in my basically non-coherent local language trying to ensure to the first person I shared gum with that it was not to be swallowed. A few months later, I remember trying to figure out the name for gum as I really wanted to buy some and by this point knew almost every boutique sold it. This is when I realized gum here even has the same name ‘chewing gum’. I’ve come full circle from teaching about chewing gum, to asking about chewing gum, to being asked about chewing gum. Please, direct all chewing gum related questions in Senegal to me!




Rain in the desert, Seamstress in training, Video with me speaking local language, and other intriguing topics

In Ohio we cherished snow days. A day with no work and no school. A day to do crafts, scratch things of personal to do lists, watch movies. In Senegal, we have “bës yu taaw”, rain days. It is a funny thing to have rain days in the desert. The earth, and the people don’t know what to do when it is raining. Everyone runs to their rooms, shuts the doors, and only dares to venture into the rain to run to one room where lunch is hosted.

And, just like snow days in the states, I make the most of these rain days. Because when it does rain, it usually rains in the night, it is rare to have a rain day. “When it rains it pours.” Thus, when it rains, typically electricity is lost, and sometimes even the water robinaes have no water. The last rain day, the server for my bank went down and none of the volunteers could access their money via ATMs across the country. On a past rain day, I sat in my room surrounded by host brothers, sisters, and friends. We played UNO and Senegalese card games. On another, my host brother and I made popcorn- some with butter and salt like Americans, some with butter and sugar like Senegalese- and watched a movie.

Rain might be a good thing, but I certainly detest night rains. One particular night, the rains started just before 3AM. I had clothes on the clothesline overnight, remembering this, I had to race outside into the rain/sandstorm. All my clothes were sopping, and covered in sand. Even with all my windows shut, I woke up to a layer of sand covering me and my entire room the next morning.  Not to forget, my tin roof makes the rain at night impossible to sleep through. It is so loud, it is probably worse for my ear drums than standing next to a speaker at a rock concert!

The car from my village is a 2 door pickup truck with planks of wood across the back used as benches. I questioned whether cars still travel near my village when it rains. The answer is complicated as it depends on how much it has rained. If it rains a lot, there is standing water- a lot of it. The roads can become flooded in parts and thus cars don’t typically drive. I happened to be on the back of one such car when it started to rain one day. At first, I felt so prepared, and happy to get to utilize the rain jacket I had hauled around all day in my backpack. I donned the cute black jacket and tightened the hood. Speckles of rain started to pelt everyone around me (think motorcycle ride in the rain-not pleasant). Then, a tarp was pulled over all of us. I reckon there were 25-30 passengers sitting on the back of this pickup. Imagine lots of hands holding on to this tarp covering our heads as we drove down the dirt road. We all had to squeeze closer together to cover us all adequately. This was one of the times that I wanted a picture for proof of our bizarre looking car. However, squeezed between many people, hands occupied holding down this tarp, and with my mind preoccupied of how awful my rain jacket, now overheating me under this tarp, I was unable to get a good picture.

In cities, the paved roads become flowing rivers. Thus, it was a rather unfortunate circumstance whereas some fellow volunteers and myself were stranded in town as few cars were driving. All of the taxis seemed to disappear, and those that were still driving refused to stop in the rushing water. Some of our friends decided to wait for a car, they ended up waiting hours. Others of us decided to walk. Two people lost shoes, as the water in the streets was deep and flowing rapidly!

Transportation is always entertaining, but never comfortable. Going to a work meeting, 14-19 women, including myself, were expected to be transported in the back of an ambulance. Another instance where a picture would have been helpful to make this experience easy

to visualize. Just imagine many dressed up women, plus large handbags crammed in the back of an ambulance. Some women bring their babies or small children to the meeting. Those without children on their laps have other women sitting on their laps. The trick is to get in to the ambulance as fast as possible. Closest to the door you are guaranteed to having someone sitting on you. And let me tell you, I made this mistake before and truly thought my legs were going to fall off before we got to our destination..


Totally not uncommon here. Yet, I still worry my bag will end up soggy with sheep pee by the end of the trek.

Aside from experiencing Senegalese transportation, I do stay in my village A LOT. Lately, I have been working on a reusable menstrual pad project with some teenage girls. Here is a picture of me, using a non-electric sewing machine. The girls have been hand sewing theirs, but it takes a long time. In my spare time, I have been helping them finish by using my village friend’s machine. I’ve got to say, I am happy I haven’t forgotten all my sewing skills I learned in my high school sewing class- who knew they would come in so handy!


So I admit I kind of dropped the ball with this blog recently. Thus, instead of going into great length to explain all of the holidays we have celebrated since my last post, I will give you the liberty of using your preferred search engine to do a little research on Tabaski, and Tom Xarit. At least I haven’t been as bad at documenting my time here with photos.

For Tabaski, everyone goes all out. Think high school prom or wedding night but where everyone is the guest of honor. All of the women get their hair braided, many with extensions woven in.


When in Rome Senegal…

It took about 8 hours spread across three days to finish these beautiful locks. And let me tell you, it was painful! For a few days, sleeping was not the most comfortable. And, it didn’t help that every child in village was fascinated by my braids- as if every other female around me didn’t have identical ones. The problem was not merely their fascination but the fact they all would pull on the ends of the braids. That, my friends, was not a pleasant feeling!


It really does take a village. Here are a few of the host sisters that helped take out my braids.



And all the fake hair that made those braids so long, beautiful, and…HEAVY.

Each family in my village had “otess.” In English, each family in my village shared a common fabric between family members. This picture shows my family’s fabric. Every women pays the same amount, gets the same amount of fabric, and then has the liberty to have their tailor make whatever style outfit they want.


My life in Senegal summed up in one picture. Mostly smiles and laughter but still some obvious confusion (i.e. front and center). Every time I think I have the language down pat or the cultural norms figured out I am taught something new.

Then we all had our second outfit with fabric we picked out. People get really creative with designing their new Tabaski outfit. The town is essentially a fashion runway when everyone changes into their new clothes.


For the holiday Tom Xarit, my village shared a cow.


Here is a picture of the meat being equally divided out and everyone waiting to claim their share.


And here is a picture of the happiest little boy waiting to take his family’s meat back to their home.


Fifty Senegalese teenage girls participated in a week-long camp ran by volunteers. This camp, called Gëm Sa Bopp, which translates into “believe in yourself” was held at one of Senegal’s public universities. For many girls, this was the first time they had been to a big city, to a university, visited the ocean, or slept away from home overnight.


The camp ultimately encourages these girls to take school seriously, to begin thinking about their future, to discuss women’s health, the environment, and how to impact their society.


I made a video, mostly featuring girls from my village. The video was recorded in local language, Wolof, but I have made English subtitles for your convenience. One man in my village has the ability to broadcast across all of the TVs if everyone tunes to the correct channel. Thus, this video was watched by my whole community. It was funny, I could hear the film being watched as I walked past people’s homes. It replayed over and over for two hours. I didn’t realize people would choose to watch it more than once. But, when kids were coming up to me and reciting my lines from the video verbatim the next morning, I knew they had watched it repeatedly.


Proof that children in my village love to help me when they can. My two year old host brother insists on carrying my empty bedongs to the robinae when I need them filled with water. Mostly, I just thought the picture was cute, so enjoy it.


Here are two videos I made. (I must admit, I am still quite indecisive as you will see with the number of different songs in the irrigation video.) The third goal of Peace Corps is to educate the people of America about the country where we volunteer. So, I made these two videos to start to accomplish this goal.

The first video is of kids dancing. Dancing here is very common. I have been expected to dance at several events, and my dance moves are nothing compared to these young souls. Although, it has encouraged me to start dance lessons with a few teenage girls in my town.

Here is the link to my video:


The second video I made after spending a few days at my host brothers field. I found the irrigation system fascinating so decided to make a short film to show you. I should state that most areas in Senegal rely on the rainy season for supplying water to the crops. My region is fortunate to have access to water, from a giant lake, to irrigate crops. Thus, we have crops year round instead of for a short amount of the year. This also means, we have watermelons more often than other regions in Senegal- something I am very happy about! The film shows this irrigation process is a physically demanding process, and very time consuming. Water runs through man-made canals/shallow ditches. Water is redirected into crop beds within the fields by moving dirt. Once the beds are flooded with water, water is cut off to by building mounds of dirt to redirect the flow of water back into the canal between beds. Then it is directed into another bed. This is repeated over and over until the whole field has been watered.

Here is the link to my video:

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Xoolal! Am naa photo lu bari. (Look! I have a lot of pictures!)

Senegal is changing me. One day, I ate half a piece of watermelon a little boy gave me- hello? Inner germaphobe where have thoust gone? And, I got a brain freeze from cold water- I’d say I’ve assimilated.

Every day is an adventure for sure. It is hard to narrow down what to mention in blog posts as every day I would have enough stories to write a book. So, I decided to focus on showing you my life rather than telling you. Hope you enjoy the pictures!


Here are some of my younger host brothers. We had a photo-shoot at the end of Ramadan when everyone was dressed up in their new clothes.


Here are some of my older host sisters. Also taken at the end of Ramadan in their new clothes.


Host sisters again. Did I mention my host family is huge? (40+ people) Here, my host sister gives her youngest sister a bucket bath in the kitchen. (Yes, that is a cat in our kitchen. The kids keep busy helping to keep animals out of the kitchen when we are cooking). Also, this is not a posed picture. Talk about genuine smiles and pure joy!


Attaya! I’ve mentioned it before, I’ll undoubtedly mention it again. This neighborhood boy is happy to deliver a glass of attaya to someone he was assigned to give it to. Typically kids will be overjoyed to be given the task of delivering attaya to someone. The attaya cups are like the one pictured, similar to a shot glass. You drink 2-3 of them. Each “round” is a little different. Each round has more sugar.


My house! The concrete structure with the clothes attached is the outside of my hut. Yes, a step above a thatch roof- or is it? Let me be the first to tell you that tin roofs are not all the elite in America crack them up to be. When it rains, rarely (thank goodness), there is no sleep for me. It is so so so loud! (The thatch structures before my hut are storage units for cooking supplies, etc.)


A majority of people in my village work in fields. Typically, the fields here grow onions and peanuts. (In a nearby village rice is grown.) Here is a picture of an onion field.


A picture of a host brother because well, admit it, he is adorable.


Another host brother- child model?


A robinae, the water faucet shown. My village has running water. By running water, I mean we have robinaes spread throughout the village. My host family has 3 on our property. Some houses do not have them and share a community robinae. People own bedongs, the yellow plastic containers. These are used to haul water. I have four bedongs. I go to a robinae and carry these back to my room so I have water. They are heavy, and remind me often just how weak I am.


Here is a picture of my little friend, Omar, using a bedong to fill a water kettle. Our robinaes have been out of water often this month. It is terrifying for me when I almost run out of water- but no one else seems too concerned. We have always gotten water back before my bedongs are completely empty, thankfully!


My village, Saneinte, is located on a huge lake, Lac de Guier. This is a huge asset for many reasons. Our fish is fresh- and delicious! Also, this water is used to do laundry, bathe, do dishes, wash the animals (goats and lambs?) -I don’t know my animals very well but I’m quite certain they aren’t sheep as they aren’t fluffy. Carrying things on your head is common practice here, as depicted in the picture. No, I am not good at it-YET. If we are being honest, everyone still laughs whenever I try it.


Ok, I have lots of little friends. I just might know more of the children’s names than the adults at this point. Anyways, here is Adama. Perfect picture of this kid. He is always either laughing or crying- one extreme or the other. Here, he is probably debating whether he wants to crack a smile or shed a tear. And, like all of the children here, his face is always covered in sand. It is inevitable, even when all the kids here get baths multiple times a day.


TWINS! My town has a statistically significant amount of twins- well I think it does at least. We have so so so many sets of twins. Here is one set. (Adama in the last photo has a twin sister, as well). Yes, the scar is the only way I can distinguish between these two.


Ok, not the most flattering picture I will be the first to admit it. I’m in love with Senegal and I think this picture shows how genuinely happy I am. It also shows life here is far from easy. My body is still adjusting (yes acne I am talking about you) and I’ve been here nearly 5 months. The diet, temperature, daily routine, stress level, culture, language, are just a few of the many things I have been adjusting to.


So, I have a garden with only one type of plant. “Nebaday” in Wolof, Moringa is the name in English. Basically, it is a nutritional miracle. It is known to have 7x the amount of Vitamin C found in oranges, 4x the amount of vitamin A found in carrots, 4x the amount of calcium found in milk, etc, etc, etc. It grows great in the desert conditions of my town, but few people grow it. In fact, the one farm that has it does not have enough crop to meet the demand. So, I have started growing it for my community. We start growing it from seeds then transplant it into the ground. Here is a photo of the transplanting process, we had to cart the plants to where we wanted to transplant them. As you can see, I am a huge help…. or, helpless- yes he is even carrying my book bag.


Another photo of me hard at work with two more of my helpers.


One of the mosques in my town. Those speakers on the roof- I think they would put Bose surround systems to shame. Think tornado siren volume level! I hear the call to prayer, in Arabic, five times a day shouted through these. Who needs an alarm clock?


What does Lady Gaga say? “Just dance it’ll be ok…dance, dance, dance, just dance”. Currently, I have dance lessons with several teenage girls, it is necessary. The last two events I’ve gone to I have been escorted to the dance floor- how did I feel? Mortified. Rhythm and/or dance moves have always been nonexistent for me. In fact, the last event I attended, the DJ singled me out and called me to the dance floor-ME! Only me! Mind you, this was in front of approximately 250 women and many men. So, after this affair, I decided I need to start dance lessons. (Events are taped so I am anxiously awaiting the video to see my embarrassing moves!)


I forgot the word for stop moving, stand still. So I said do this, and put my hands on my hips to try to demonstrate standing still—no one understood what I wanted, but here are a bunch of boys copying my sass- and clearly not standing still.

Destroying sandcastles in the desert and other daily activities


I have lived in my new village for almost a month! Here I was all packed up and ready to go. And, I am still working on becoming a minimalist, but this is another volunteers stuff mixed with mine.

So I have moments of serious writer genius. These are moments when I have mind-blowing thoughts, including whole phrases, that sound like they were written by a professional author, to explain my life in Senegal, for my blog. Unfortunately, these times do not like to align with my schedule. We all know my memory sucks, so what ends up happening is that these strokes of genius, in the end, are not used. Instead, you all are stuck with my writing in the absence of my strokes of genius. Sorry in advance.

Let me give an example to explain this more clearly. One day, I was sitting outside under a shade structure. I do this 90% of my days. When it is over 100 degrees in the dessert, people survive by sitting, under shade structures. Anyways, I came up with this great idea, but I couldn’t write it down immediately as I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I have a computer, especially a MacBook, but more pertinent, my computer would die outside in the heat, and with the sand that covers my skin in layers at any given point. (In fact, another volunteer (looking at you James) posted a picture the other day of his feet and commented something along the lines of tan or sand?) So anyway, I couldn’t write this post because I was outside, sweating, being covered in sand when I had one of these epiphanies. However, the most important detail of this story is that I couldn’t even write down my thoughts because my right hand, my dominant hand was at that moment covered in a sock and wrapped in plastic. I decided to let my counterpart at the health post in my town (where medical treatment is sought) give me henna. She said she could do it just like the picture of another woman I saw in Senegal. Can’t say it turned out the same…or even the same color…but I have nothing but time here for it to fade so no hard feelings. Anyways, here is a pic of this classy affair. Yes, we are very resourceful. Quite confident this bin, holding the henna, is also used to deliver babies so the microbiologist in me is definitely, for once, thankful I can’t see anything microscopic.

This same day, I got the words “yendoo” and “nuyoo” confused. I mean come on, cut me some slack, they almost have the same letters scrambled in different ways. (To give you some critical information- in Senegal, as we have discussed, we do not use toilet paper. Everyone wipes with their left hand. Due to this, you essentially don’t use your left hand for much of anything. I am very thankful, in retrospect, that this is one of the very first things Peace Corps taught me—literally on the first day I arrived in country). So, this henna is only on my right hand…

Nuyoo is the wolof word which means “to greet”. Yendoo, means something close to “to spend the day”. When I walked out of the health hut, where I got my henna, I ran into some community members. They told me to come “yendoo” at their house. Thinking it would be impolite not to go greet the family, I obliged. What I didn’t realize at that moment is that I was instead agreeing to spend the day with the family. I would eat lunch there, drink tea there, nap there, and of course do a lot of talking. Although, as soon as I realized this, I remembered my right hand was not in working order. Thankfully, a spoon was the solution to my problem as then I was able to eat with my left hand. Although, my left hand is very clearly not my dominant hand so there were several awkward moments for sure!

Since solidifying the translation of yendoo and nuyoo now, I yendoo at many houses in my village. This helps me learn names of the people in my village. Further, I am playing my own game of Top Chef Saneinte and finding out who has the absolute best food and attaya (tea) as I am positive this will be useful in the future. It is a great way for me to practice my language with different people as well as pose many questions as to what different community members would like to see me focus on for my project in the community.

I don’t have a project yet; I am just at the brainstorming stage. I’m thinking the most beneficial will be convincing JIF to open a factory here. Not only will it bring in lots of money, jobs, resources; but, it would save you- my beloved friends and family- lots of money sending heavy JIF peanut butter jars in care packages. We are one of the peanut capitals of the world here. But, I can’t find JIF- or any peanut butter for that matter- anywhere. Well, ok, there is peanut butter but I think its name was lost in translation as it tastes nothing like peanut butter at all!

Clearly, joking about the JIF factory! However, our village does have peanuts galore. We eat them raw- fresh from the field- or roast them. Mostly, they are taken to big cities to be sold.  I spent a few hours in the fields. I learned a lot. First off, peanuts grow underground. I helped pick the peanuts off their plants- would have been 10000x easier if the plants weren’t covered in burrs. Another day, I went to an onion field and helped load onions into large bags to be taken to the city. My favorite part of the fields so far has been observing the irrigation system. (As I go to watch this mesmerizing process more, I will find ways to better articulate- or show through a video or pictures- this system). It is an absolutely genius system by where someone moves dirt to flood small sections of the field. We have running water in my community which allows us to farm year round- very, very uncommon in Senegal to not have to rely on the rainy season.


My new happy little friend, Cher. Yes, this was the result of his selfie.

Rainy season, when the mosquitos arrive…or so I am told. So far, in my village, I am not greeted by those annoying pesks frequently. I sleep under my mosquito net every night, but find it is more useful for fending off other pesky creatures like flies, ants, cockroaches. No, they don’t make me itch- well not as much as mosquitos anyways, but the little devils- as I call the ants, better not get in my suitcase when I come back to the states. If they do, I think America will be no more. These little creatures- seriously they aren’t even the big black ants I see sometimes in the States. These are tiny, but boy are they mighty. Pretty sure, Louis Pasteur, too, would be convinced that these things just appear and would have a hard time refuting spontaneous generation in my small hut in the Saharan desert. (Need to use random facts I needed to get my college degree occasionally, right?) I am convinced the ants just appear. Anyways, for the first week of my service these tiny creatures would build castles on the right corner of my toilet. They would seriously break down the cement. Every day I would try to drown them with water but pretty sure this only motivated them to create a bigger mansion the following day. Finally, I decided bleach would kill them- it kills everything right? Well, since it didn’t kill them, I am slightly less convinced it is an effective way to clean the germs on the outside of my apples and mangoes now. I mean, come on I can see with my naked eyes it has no effect at all on these ants. Everyone told me- well one other volunteer I asked- because I certainly wasn’t going to complain to my host family about this minute issue, (Also, because I never learned the Wolof word for ant- who knew it would be so necessary?) that I should just cement over them. So, when I went to the nearest town (1.5-2 hours away)- the one that has my post office, where I buy my fruit, and much more- to purchase the cement, I found bug spray in a store. All of the writing on it is in French, so who knows, this stuff probably will kill me- but IT WORKS MIRACLES! The ants are gone…from that spot! Now, I see random ants, one or two here and there on my floor, once I find the source- which is harder than you might think. I will certainly end them. So those are annoying for sure, but there are also waaaayyyyy more flies than cockroaches, so far. I don’t really know how they get into my room but they must think this is a safe place or something- which I give them props for figuring out. I don’t have a fly swatter- and even if I did, I definitely don’t have the energy, or desire to sweat more, trying to combat them. But, at any given moment, I see soooo many flies in my room. So far, my mosquito net at night protects me more from flies than anything else. All I need to say about donkeys is that if you haven’t heard the noises they make, I envy you. To make matters worse, they love to make these noises in the middle of the night seemingly directly outside of my room.


They look innocent.. don’t let their looks fool you.

I got peed on twice by tiny humans in the past month. One was a baby so it can be forgiven. The other time, this mischievous 2 year old caught me by surprise to say the least. However, someone else killed a chicken and prepared it simply as a treat because I visited his house (to yendoo). I know in the States, chicken is often a staple of the diet, but it is expensive here and eaten only for very special occasions. The chicken symbolizes just how welcoming the culture in my new village is. And, the taste of it made me (temporarily) forget about being peed on, the cockroach I killed on the floor of my room earlier in the day, the war I am fighting with the ants, and the desert heat.


One of my new host sisters, posing for the camera.

I’ve had my hands full carrying a notebook to write down new Wolof words I hear everywhere I go, as well as envelopes full of Wolof notecards I make every day. Thus, I have not had my camera with me very often. Next post I will try to capture more moments on my camera. And, decorating my room is a slow process. I did have curtains made this week, though! As it comes together more, I will post pictures of my humble abode. For now, stay curious!


Another of my host sisters. She is constantly keeping me entertained. Ask my mother, she took over my video chat with my parents to make faces at them and ensure I was never in the screen. This particular day she had her hair only half braided and she had a hysterical mohawk going on.

Ndonk, Ndonk


My neighborhood pals. These little friends caught me heading back to my house after class. Yes, the water bottle made it into this picture making it a very accurate portrayal of my day to day life. I carry my bottle full of filtered water literally everywhere with me!

“Ndonk, ndonk” in Wolof translates to “step by step” or “slowly, slowly”.


Am I tan yet? Jokes…clearly I am still the pale, sunscreen loving Rachel Wallace you all know and love. (This is one of my host sisters posing with me).

Ndonk, ndonk: Step by step I am understanding more Wolof. More importantly, more Senegalese people are understanding MY Wolof. Culture is becoming less of a mystery to me. I attended multiple weddings and baby naming ceremonies (similar to a baby shower except AFTER the baby is born) this past month. Now, I know what to expect at such events for the most part. However, as soon as I start to feel this way, curve balls are thrown. Especially as my appearance continues to draw much attention from Senegalese. For instance, at the last wedding I attended, I ended up in one of 4 satin covered chairs next to the bride and groom merely because of what an oddity my composition was among the rest of the guests. Like a celebrity, I was guided to a stage meant for the bride, groom, and their close family. However, as the camera man followed the bride and groom to their seats, I am the one sitting next to them in all of the photos rather than family.  It was very uncomfortable, I felt like a wedding crasher getting caught and put on the spot.


At a wedding celebration with my host Mom and host Sister. I purposely did not crop this so you can see the entryway of a home in my host city. This area generally serves as a foyer area and is large enough for many people to congregate. The boy in the bottom left is one of my host brothers. 

Ndonk, ndonk:  One evening, I went with my host brother to a friend’s house. What I expected was an hour visit in which I would socialize with his friends, whom I have come to know, and practice my language skills. However, as is becoming the norm, what I assumed was not reality. It turns out “When you assume you make an …. out of “u” and me”” holds quite true in this part of the world, too. After several hours, I found myself having a FOURTH (yes, I’m not wasting away here) meal surrounded by the city’s championship soccer team members. Me plus nearly 20 young men (ages ranging from 19-30) sat on mattresses indulging on a scrumptious meal to celebrate their recent soccer championship. The fourth meal was not the only thing unexpected in this scenario. I was chatting away (well more like stumbling through simple sentences) when I noticed something big and black in my peripheral vision. For an instant, I expected it to be a bug, however that thought quickly passed and I became re-engaged in my conversation. A few seconds later, the black object was much closer to me. The moment it dawned on me that this huge black mass was indeed a living, moving bug, I jumped up, screamed, and was actually terrified as I leapt halfway across the room. Temporarily disoriented, I was confused what the sounds that pounded my ears were… all 20 men were laughing hysterically that I was afraid of a bug. In my defense, this beetle was the size of two quarters at least. Although, at the time it seemed to be as big as a CD.

The morning after THE INCIDENT, half asleep I walk into the bathroom. These rascal beetles sneak up on me when I’m not expecting them. Eyes barely open, I almost don’t see the huge beetle scurrying daringly close to the Turkish toilet. When I do see it, NO! I do not scream; merely squash it, without even skipping a beat or batting an eye. Day by day, ndonk ndonk, I become more and more Senegalese. (Well, except they wouldn’t actually kill the beetle they would just move it outside or ignore it).


I love this photo. First of all, it is a rare candid shot. Every time I show my camera, the people around me can’t wait to pose for a photo. Soccer is life here. Notice the soccer jersey and ball. In fact, I purchased this ball for my host family! The reason I took this picture is to show how enthralled people are with the simplest things I have brought here from America. This is a battery powered clock/alarm clock. Every single time (no pun intended) someone enters my room they not only pick it up but send several minutes amazed by it. They have wall clocks here, but this alarm clock is the best thing since sliced bread I’m starting to realize. 

Ndonk, ndonk: literally slowly, slowly, and step by step, I am running here in Senegal.  My running buddy, Moosaa Low (totally just spelled that phonetically) is quite an athlete. Because his school is so different than what we are accustomed to, I am going to diverge from talking about me for a second…shocking I know. He is currently a student at a school that focuses on Soccer. In addition to the typical academic coursework in Senegal, his school teaches several additional languages. He told me he is learning Spanish, French, German, Italian and English. And, in addition he speaks Wolof at home and in the community. The reasoning behind this is so that if he is able to fund a trip to try out for different soccer teams internationally, he will be able to converse with teammates, coaches, and the general population.

We have been running in the sand, as he claims it is better for your body to not run on asphalt. True, but running in sand is so much more taxing on my energy levels. Moosaa Low was so excited to inform me that when I go back to America, I will not only be faster but also will not get tired as fast as my friends while running- thanks to the sand. For me, it is just good practice for when I finish training and move to my permanent site where paved roads will be nonexistent. I’m quite proud though, although I laughed the first time he suggested we run for an hour and called him crazy (yes I definitely know how to say this key phrase in Wolof) I have ran for an hour in the sun, heat, and sand. The most exciting part though, is not how long we ran or that I was able to survive the conditions, but that I could converse with him in Wolof the whole duration of the run.


Did I mention the Senegalese kind of like soccer? This is watching a community soccer game. The two people pictured from left to right are my friend from my home-stay and his best friend who happens to be my host brother. Several of my other friends and host siblings are beside us watching as is evident in the shadow. However, I think the shadows are so symbolic. I am watching the game with my friends and family in Senegal; however, I am only visible in the shadow of this photo. I am still observing so much of the culture from the outside, peering (in this case over shoulders) in to a country so different from where I was raised. 

Ndonk, ndonk: very slowly, slowly I get to my destinations on public transportation here in Senegal. I have a feeling most of my travel stories will incorporate some sort of transportation component. So far, I have ridden 2 sept place’s which have broken down while I was a passenger. These are vehicles that look like retro station wagons. They seat seven passengers. The first one I rode, had no working gauges. The speedometer looked as if it and the RPM gauge had broken ages ago. An additional gauge had clearly been added to the car by a Senegalese person. Occasionally throughout the trip, the driver would use a flicking motion to try to trigger his gauge to start working again. When the ride started to get really bumpy, yet the road conditions hadn’t changed, I knew we were about to break down.  It thankfully broke down not in the middle of the desert, but actually on the outskirts of the city I was travelling to. I was able to get on a city bus to finish my journey.

To give you a clearer mental image of automobiles in Senegal, when cars fill up at gas stations they do not shut off their engines. When asked my opinion of this matter by a fellow volunteer, I quickly responded that it was common sense. Clearly, if they shut off for gas the likelihood of starting back up with ease would be slim.

Near my host family site- where I learn and practice Wolof- there is a beach. It is roughly an hour car ride away. Sept places are a tad more expensive as modes of transportation in Senegal as all seven people go to one destination. It is often faster as other modes stop often to let more people in the vehicle or drop people off. Because of the expense of a sept place, and the fact that we had nearly 15 people going to the beach, my host family, friends, and I rode in what appeared to be the back of a semi. The trailer was probably half the size of a semi trailer. There was metal and wood paneling that lined the sides, with plenty of cracks in between the siding. Inside, benches lined the sides. When the benches fill, some people stand, some sit on the ground, and some even sit on the top of the trailer. Hanging off the back of the trailer are assistants to the driver. They notify the driver when to stop to let people on or off by wailing on the side of the trailer loud enough for the driver to hear. As we got closer to the beach, the pavement transitioned into a dirt road. When traveling in Senegal, even in a taxi, it is strongly recommended to carry a scarf to cover your face. At the end of a trip, there always seems to be a noticeable layer of sand covering my clothes. On this semi-like contraption, I tried to take a picture of my friends sitting across from me all covering their noses and mouths to decrease the amount of sand and dirt they inhaled. Due to the cracks in the siding and the light flooding in, the quality is not the best, however it gets the point across.


Transportation in the desert captured in a photo. 

Ndonk, ndonk: slowly, slowly I am seeing more and more in Senegal. As far as animals, I have seen camels and a hedgehog in the wild. My permanent site, which I will be moving to in nearly two weeks, is situated in the desert. It isn’t official considered the Sahara Desert yet, however all of the sand has come with wind and is from the Sahara. Despite being in the desert, there are no camels at my future site. This contradicts to every imagery I’ve ever seen of the desert. However, on the way to my visit my site, I saw several camels roaming the terrain from my car window. So, albeit there are no camels at my site, I will be able to see them still occasionally while traveling.  Hopefully I will capture a good picture to share in a future post.


Some of my friends from my home-stay and another volunteer posing before a baby naming ceremony.

So long as I pass some exams, perform well on presentations I need to give, and am considered proficient in my language skills, I will be moving to my permanent site at the end of the first week of May.



I plan to add a list of things I would be ecstatic to receive in care packages very soon. You will find this list within the “care package” tab on this website in the next few days. My new address is:

PCV Rachel Wallace

BP 32

Richard Toll, Senegal

West Africa, 32600