Dem Naa Ba Niew. Liggeyy Bi, Mungiy Dox, Alxumdulilah- I Left and Came Back. Work is Going Well. Thanks Be To God.

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.

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While there are hamburgers available here, they are a far cry from a Burger King Whopper!

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OMG! It will be hard to forget how excited I was for this hot dog! Often times charcoal is used to cook here. When I catch wafts of it, which happens on a regular basis,  I am reminded of summer cookouts. But, the meal here has never consisted of a hot dog or hamburger. Why? Well, for one, the Muslim religion bans eating pigs which makes the possibility of eating a hot dog in a predominately Muslim country quite difficult.

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I’m proud that my coffee and tea addiction in Senegal hasn’t made me immune to caffeine. After this espresso martini “yech naa”! (I was wired) I mean, truthfully, I could not sleep for hours! And, in order  to take this rather clever picture, I did indeed pick up the sign and move it to a better location- the manager then saw me sitting on the floor, beside the bar, and came over to ask if I was alright…the embarrassing things I do for a picture. Also, again, in the Muslim religion, alcohol is banned. So, although not a dry country, when most bartenders don’t drink, it is hard to get anything that actually tastes good when it comes to cocktails in Senegal.

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Tea without sugar, without three rounds of brewing, not drank out of shot glasses? We aren’t in Senegal anymore! If only ovens were available to cook with I would most certainly press the idea of having scones and cake with our “attaya” (tea) here in Senegal.

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.

Book Project

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.

http://www.sanduskyregister.com/story/201801080001

https://www.peacecorps.gov/stories/how-80-handmade-books-connected-students-ohio-students-senegal/

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.

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One of the book authors handing off the books to me on my visit home to America for Christmas. Yes, you betcha! That dress of mine is definitely haute couture, an original, high-fashion l piece made just for me by one of my tailors here in Senegal.

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!)

https://www.dropbox.com/s/ea5xy2ui2fe2pay/Book%20Project.mp4?dl=0

Fashion Show

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Even attendees to the event dressed to impress.

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:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/n40t9uwtn2zxe1w/Fashion%20Show.mp4?dl=0

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

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Speaking of fashion…check out our new outfits for the recent holiday, Korite. This holiday celebrates the end of fasting for the month of Ramadan.

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, …..

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And here you thought you were done salivating during this post. Well, I need to keep that appetite for reading alive!

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!)

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Posing with two of my host sisters, Tabara Diop and Khady Bousso.

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Host brother, Modou Thiam.

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Another host brother (Amadou Thiam) and another traditional male outfit for your viewing pleasure.

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Day two of the holiday. Some people get multiple outfits made, I decided to improvise. New top, same skirt and headpiece. Here is Chèr Nuang. Look familiar? He’s been featured on the blog before but this time we are both hiding our teethy grins.

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Dressed up? Yes! Refusing to wear traditional clothes? Yes! Some males I have never seen in Wolof clothing, Khalifa Diop, as a prime example.

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The holiday also brings good food- just like holidays in America. Here are some of the women putting final touches on our meal.

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Final product. Varmesselle- like angel hair spaghetti, French fries, bread, onion sauce, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, a piece of meat and a piece of chicken (covered by the onion sauce).

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Dinner is served! (Ok, it was really lunch but “Lunch is served!” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.)

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.

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Probably my favorite picture from the event. In order to get pictures of myself participating in my events I give my camera to a certain 14-year-old boy, trust he wont break it and hope I’ll get some good pics in return. I’d say he’s held up his end of the deal- giving me pics such as this!

Whenever someone doesn’t sleep under a net it puts the entire village at risk for contracting malaria. It takes a village…

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It also takes a couple sets of twins…at least for cute pictures at events.

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.

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Mama Diop focusing on cleaning her net. Surprisingly at this event, more males than females came. This is a shocker as predominately only women do laundry.

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Proof I make my educational programs fun.

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.

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How many kids can wash one net?? That is the question!

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Everyone had their part- he was one of our laundry clip boys. He provided us with laundry clips while we hung the nets up to dry.

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It isn’t always easy. We all need to rest occasionally-like this dude, just chillin out.

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.

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Projects with children are never dull. Apparently it was a hair washing day for this one.

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.

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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)

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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?)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Sand, sand, sand EVERYWHERE!

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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.)

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1iBID40xFABv9yzYAFD4VTBZkXUVWpiQA

  • 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..

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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!

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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.

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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!

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

 

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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:

Continue reading

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!

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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.

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

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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!

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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

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Another host brother- child model?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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?

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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!)

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.