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:

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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!

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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.

Ndonk, Ndonk

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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”.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I’VE MOVED!

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

 

 

 

Life as Ndey Seye

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A perfect depiction. This charette is hauling scraps of fabrics swept off the floor of many tailor shops during morning cleaning.

How is the weather you ask?  To best answer this question, I think I must add in some context. In Senegal, it is imperative that you greet people you encounter. If you want to purchase something from a store, you greet the storekeeper and ask briefly about their day, their family, and their name before thinking about telling them what you are looking for or what you would like to purchase. Like most of the world, one of the greetings is related to weather.

 “Naka tangaay bi?” Which is typically responded to with “Tang rekk”.

“How is the heat?” And the typical response translates to “Heat only.”

I feel this sums up the weather in Senegal. In fact, it is so hot, that people take a long afternoon break. Most people leave work and school and eat lunch at their homes with their families. After lunch, people do not go outside. Instead, they nap, watch television, and drink attaya (tea) during the afternoon heat.  However, it is not hot everywhere, or all the time.

My training is well under way. I split my time between training in “a slice of America”, a camp-like compound where all 52 new Senegal Peace Corps Trainees spend our time in class. We are learning about what to expect over our next two years in Senegal, what resources we will have access to, how to stay healthy, how to implement programs and engage in communities. All of this we learn in English. We are surrounded by Americans, or heavily westernized Senegalese employees of Peace Corps. When we are not at our training sites, we are placed with a host family where we learn language and culture.

Each trainee learns one of 5 languages prevalent in Senegal. I am learning Wolof, widely spoken across most regions in Senegal. My host family has 7 children (5 boys and 2 girls). Plus, of course, myself- named Ndey Seye. The two year old is my namesake. It is honorable to be given a Senegalese name although it took me several days to pronounce my name correctly or realize someone was calling to me- as Ndey Seye. I enjoy the variation in ages between the children. The young ones (2, 7, 9) are great for nonverbal communication; which at times is so necessary, when I am feeling overwhelmed by the language. A silly face, tickle monster, or even racing them in the hallway and playing soccer, in the ally behind the house, are easily done without any exchange of language. On the other hand, the older 4 children (15,18,20,23) are so helpful with my language learning. They converse with me all day, help me learn new vocabulary, and improve my pronunciation. In Wolof, unlike French and English there are many words that have two consonants back to back. For example, “nd” and “ng”. These, I struggle with pronouncing the most, as the sounds are so unfamiliar to me. To further complicate things, there are so so so so many words in Wolof that sound very similar. For example, laa and la, mer and mar, daw and daaw all mean entirely different things.

There is so much change, it really is difficult to accurately portray a day in my new life. While in America, I wished for an “ineffable” experience. This is true already. I can’t accurately describe my life to you. Everything is a new normal. So normal in fact, that I forget I need to explain cultural norms which I am already accustomed to. For example, sitting on the floor eating out of a communal bowl with 5-10 family members is normal now. The absence of toilet paper is normal now (google “water wiping” and “Turkish toilets”). Sleeping under a mosquito net is normal now. (In reality, every 10-year-old girl would be in heaven in the USA if they were given a mosquito net to sleep under. Every day I get to escape for sleep under my princess canopy.) I drink water out of a Peace Corps issued water filter. I take a malaria prophylaxis every morning after breakfast.

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Some of my host family siblings and I enjoying our fattaya and onion sauce dinner. I was so happy to help my sister make all of the fattayas!

This may seem wildly foreign to some of you. It truly did not take long to assimilate to these things. Especially, when I have had to learn more important phrases in Wolof than “where is the toilet paper” to communicate with my host family. Time is flying by. I am nearly halfway through my training here in Senegal. Every day I can’t believe I am actually in Africa when I wake up…. Well until I have to scramble to remember all of my morning greetings in the local language before I leave my room. For the most part, I feel as if I am back in school now, with a conservative dress code and the desire to shop for fabric and go to the tailor with any free time I have. I have just had my first midterm and language assessment. Also, I found out where my site will be for my 2-year service as a volunteer today!!!!

I am excited to announce that my site will be in a tiny rural town 2 hours west of Saint Louis called Saneinte. Fun fact, Saint Louis used to be the capital of Senegal. Thus, there is a lot to do there. I feel as if I am going to be in a location that is the perfect combination of rural and urban. My specific site, I am told, has a population of approximately 800 people. It is situated on Lac de Guier, a lake that provides most of the drinking water, and running water throughout Senegal. This is in my backyard!! So fitting for me, as in the States I grew up with a lake in my backyard. The area is known for producing most of the rice eaten throughout Senegal, and with the lake I can count on most of my meals involving fish! The volunteer whom I am replacing is a very enthusiastic and outgoing woman so I feel my personality will flourish in this community. Furthermore, it is close enough to Saint Louis and another large town, Richard Toll, to enjoy the assets urban settings offer. I will be visiting my site and the volunteer whom I am replacing (she is at the end of her two year service) for the next few days.

 

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And here is another picture of my little friend Salaam- the most smiley child! Also, look close and you can see I am happily modeling the first skirt I had made in Senegal.

Thanks to all for the letters you have sent so far. I am so far a very popular volunteer…. receiving the most mail. So keep it up. Although, with all of the Peace Corps issued gear, I have far too many things to haul to my site where I will work on projects for 2 years. Thus, if you are planning on sending me a package- which of course I won’t stop you from doing- please hold off until the beginning of May to send one to my new address in Saneinte (which I do not know yet but will share when I find out).  Also please stop sending letters to my current address in Thies after the middle of April as mail will not be forwarded to my new address.

Hope all is well! I have had a very exciting, successful first month in Senegal!

Waving ‘Au Revoir’ To Normalcy

I am moving to Senegal, a country roughly half the size of California, located in Northwest Africa. I plan to participate in ineffable experiences; moments so immersed in a different culture that I I will be unable to accurately describe them in words. Amidst the many moments of personal growth throughout my 27-month journey, I hope to become a global leader. I hope my experience will enable me to teach America, upon my return, to gaze through the prejudiced film that impedes on our vision. At a time of oppression for persons of Muslim faith in the United States, I am moving to a country where Muslim is the predominant religion.

Upon hearing I had decided to take a break in my education following college graduation, a teacher cautioned me against becoming complacent. That warning became one of the pillars in shaping what I would do during my gap years and how I try to live my life. Moving to a foreign continent fulfills my goal to hurdle the complacent obstacle that impedes the futures of many people.

“Are you scared?”  “Africa is dangerous!” I have been asked or told statements like these countless times. Typically, my safety is the first thing friends and family comment on when I tell them about my upcoming move. Scrolling through Instagram, a common first-world pastime, which I admit I will miss somewhat, I came across a wonderful quote. I cite Paulo Coelho’s well stated words, “We all know fear. But passion makes us fearless.” I wish I would have stumbled upon this sooner. I wish I would have had this statement as my go-to answer to the ‘Am I scared?’ question.

It would be an utter lie if I told you that my passion for wanting to move international and represent the United States of America as a Peace Corps Volunteer completely masks my fear. I am scared. I am scared of the momentous initial change, leaving an easy life, leaving everyday luxuries. As contradictory as it sounds, at the same time, these are exactly the things I am excited to leave behind. I am excited to admire how people living with less are so rich with joy, have so much more zest for life, and, plainly stated, are happier.

Michael Bloomberg notably remarked, “individual courage combined with collective action and teamwork changes the world.” I am both nervous and scared to leave the USA. It is daunting for sure. However, any big change is scary. We can let the fear control our lives or we can embrace it and let it be our constant motivator to keep pushing ourselves. I have summoned the courage to join the Peace Corps and move to Senegal. I aspire to work with my community to hopeful use Bloomberg’s equation to change the world.

For everyone subconsciously, or consciously, rolling your eyes right now, I do realize how cliché “changing the world” sounds. However, I am under no illusion that saying something as profound as this statement will make it easy or even feasible. Yet, I also believe that changing the world does not have to be an overpowering change that will shock the globe. Rather, impacting one life, one family, one community, one city, one country in a small way will indeed change the world on some scale. Implementing a program or modifying school curriculums in order to improving the health, expanding the knowledge of science, demonstrating proper sanitation techniques may be enough to change the world, or at least one corner of it. This is my goal, to offer knowledge that I have to someone else.

The purpose of this blog is multifaceted. I want to use it as a way to communicate with friends and family in an efficient way. I want to use it as a way to improve my writing capabilities. I want to use it as a way to share pictures, stories, and ultimately chronologically record my time abroad. I am also well aware that upon my return I will not be able to share all of funny, exciting, or unbelievable experiences I had over 27 months. Whether this is because I physically do not have the time, get tired of repeating the story to more than 3 people, or (for those of you that know me, the most probable reason) that I have forgotten a majority of the stories. I hope that this blog will enable everyone to experience my journey with me through becoming immersed in each short story I share and every picture I post. Through adding your email in the subscribe section at the bottom of my blog, you will be notified every time I post so you will not have to constantly check for updates. (Don’t worry, it is free!) This, I think, will prove incredibly useful as at this time I do not know how much access to internet I will have.

The process: I will wave farewell to Ohio on February 23. I will have 3 months of intense language and culture training in Thiès, Senegal upon my arrival in-country. As far as communication is concerned, I will definitely be able to receive snail mail during my training.  (Be sure to add “Airmail” AND “Par Avion” on every single letter or package. This will make delivery time 1-2 weeks rather than months! ALSO, you should go to the Post Office to send the letters as a regular postage stamp will not be enough to send your words all the way to me).

My address will change after the first 3 months as I leave training and move to the village where I will be a health extension agent. The second address should remain the same for the duration of my service. If you write me during my training, I will definitely send you my updated address when I find out.  Send me pictures, send me stories about your life, tell me everything that would come up in normal conversation if I was still living in the USA. I will miss you all!

 

Au revoir,

Rachel