Leggi, Xam Nanu Sama Village ak Samay Xarit (Now They Know My Village and My Friends)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Posing outside the Peace Corps training facility where I studied language and culture for the first 3 months of my service and have returned to often for further trainings.

It is hard enough to sum up a week long vacation. But, there is so much more involved being the tour guide, translator, cultural Google, for your entire family in a developing country. Thus, the delay in the blog post. That, and choosing only a selection of so many amazing family photos took some time.

Let us begin. The Wallace bunch of adventurers came to visit their missing link in Senegal…aka moi! Two weeks of their Christmas break were spent sweating in the desert sands of Northern Senegal. Since we may or may not have taken the most family pictures circa my college graduation and probably the most family photos we will have until one of us gets married off, I figured we should let photos show our trip.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When they arrived, we spent the first few days in Dakar, Senegal’s capital city. This picture was taken at the base of the Monument de la Renaissance. Look at that wind blown hair and those happy-to-be-reunited smiles. 🙂

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Father-daughter photo inside the monumental, La Maison des Esclaves  (House of Slaves) located on Gore Island. This historic landmark preserves history by sharing information about the slave trade; specifically, how this island was used as a port between West Africa and the Americas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And another family pic on Gore Island.

We started this trip in Dakar, a bustling city full of people and traffic. My goal of the trip was to introduce my family to Senegal. Since they may never get the opportunity to re-visit, I thought it would be best to show them different parts of Senegal besides just one small corner of the country where my village is.

Thus, after visiting Dakar, we traveled to a very different city, Saint Louis. This city is unlike any other in Senegal. The architecture is very French based from the colonial ages. Being a vacation destination and home to expats, there are some unique restaurants with foods which cannot be found closer to my village. Another reason we stopped here is because it is a good break from travel. Even though I selected transportation more comfortable than what I typically travel in, ask any of the family, everyone will say transportation takes a toll on your body here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I do a lot of gender development and empowerment work in Senegal. Apparently, my work transferred to my family as well. Bravo, Dad! That handiwork looks great. Our Airbnb had a washing machine. “Wash everything!” I told my family. Hand washing in village is a tiresome activity so I suggested we take advantage of this rare opportunity to use a washing machine. Because even in cold season, there is sun during the day, I have never seen a dryer in Senegal. Everyone has clotheslines. This one is on the roof, which is common for cities.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Families are big in Senegal. And, being part of a village for almost 2 years, I have become familiar with distant relatives in nearly all parts of the country. Thus, when I travel through, I always try to make time to say hello. Which, is always welcomed and appreciated, Senegal is the country of “teranga” (hospitality), after all.

This photo was taken while we visited Ibulaye at his sewing supply boutique in Saint Louis.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Of course we went fabric shopping. This fabric, Mayloose or Milfe, is worn by many women in the Northern part of the country. It originates from our bordering country Mauritania. It is lightweight and thus great for hot temperatures.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As wonderful as this lightweight, breezy fabric is, it isn’t perfect. This picture clearly captures the biggest downfall. As it is sold in 5 meters of fabric and just wrapped around the body, it needs to be readjusted often. Thus, I learned early on, it is not in fact that wonderful for hot temperatures as it is risky to wear by itself. Typically, you wear a tank top or shirt and leggings underneath as you will be readjusting the wrap often. These layers are hot and thus makes this lightweightness negligible.

IMG_9107

“Don’t eat street food!” you will read in every travel advice book ever published. But, our first night in Saint Louis we did just that. Here we are waiting for our grilled meat “kabab” sandwiches to be made. Cheap and delicious! No one got sick, so safe too! On a Peace Corps budget, I know many affordable places to eat. Honestly it was more of a risk when to take my family to any nice restaurant as more than likely I had never been and couldn’t be confident the food would be prepared correctly.

IMG_9105

My mom and dad can tell you way more history than I can about Saint Louis. Every day they were providing me with new facts they learned from their tour books. Often, I wouldn’t believe them and would fact check with a local taxi driver. The facts always proved true. Anyways, this picture shows the brightly painted boats you will see all over Saint Louis, an island surrounded by these fishing boats.

IMG_6035

Having guests 1) provides you with lots of pictures of yourself 2) helps you realize how “new” some things are to people that don’t live in Senegal. It is really easy to become so used to things once you’ve been in a place for a long time that you forget how different and fresh it was when you first arrived. Fabric shops for instance, something I am quite used to, visitors marvel at. The fabrics that I am pointing to are called Wax. This fabric is made into traditional clothes worn by most Senegalese women. Because the selection of fabric is greater in cities, I recommended those who wanted to get clothes custom made to select their fabric in Saint Louis. Every shop will have different Wax designs.

IMG_4073

Because I sleep under a mosquito net every night, it is normal for me. I would’ve never thought to take a picture of it. Here is dad sleeping comfortable because he is protected from mosquitoes and the risk of malaria.

IMG_5894

Another perk of having a guest: you get to see parts of the country/ tourist spots you may have never visited. Because it is the first 36 photos shown when you search Senegal on Pinterest, my mother and sister insisted we go to the Pink Lake (Lac Rose).

Because of the high salt content, the bottom doesn’t have sand, it is all salt, the lake is pink. We took this little boat out to the middle of the lake and watched a man pulling salt from the bottom to sell. As you go farther into the lake, it gets more and more pink.

Next stop…VILLAGE!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The first night, I had a surprise for my family. We wore our matching outfits and went to their welcome party. I figured this was the most culturally appropriate way to introduce my family to the whole town. Essentially it is a huge dance party. (Our dance moves don’t compare to the local talent, I have video proof but I’ve been warned by my mother about posting them….and thou shalt obey thy mother.)

People talked about how wonderful the dance party was for days. I was welcomed into village with a dance party my very first day. It was incredibly awkward, as I did not know anyone, and can not dance at all! Thus, I had to welcome my family in the same way. Also, it is an excellent opportunity to introduce everyone without having to go house to house to introduce my family. Greetings are very important in Senegal, and had I not had a party, we would have had to walk house to house to allow everyone to welcome my family.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So, that last picture was rare for village- a picture without children. The kids in my village LOVE photos. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE them. And, they love my room. Thus, we were always surrounded by children. Because my family couldn’t speak the local language, every time I left them even for seconds, upon arriving back to my room I would find the space crammed with children surrounding my family.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And another, because I am obsessed with matching outfits. So, please admire the creative beauty of these matching garments. Sucraina, my young host sister is being her sassy self between Sarah and I. Sarah is holding, who will become, her favorite child in village over the course of the week.

IMG_4174

Here we are sitting in a living room of a house I frequent in village. My mother took this photo, stealthily, to show that in her opinion I am “too comfortable” in my village. She said this in a joking manner, but this picture really does show how familiar and comfortable I am within my village and in Senegal.

EVERYONE LOVES DAD!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The kids loved dad because he would let them take pictures on his camera, then rush it back to him for him to pull the pictures up and allow them to admire their photographic masterpieces.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He went to the fields. One farmer asked him for advice. As I translated for him to my dad, he can tell a hard worker when he sees one. Dad was easy to identify as a hard worker. Thus, he asked my dad what advice would he give to a younger man to be successful in balancing a successful career and job. Deep questions on what was expected to be a quick tour of some fields.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mom and dad learned new Wolof phrases every day and tried their best to communicate. It is amazing how far nonverbal communication can go. So much can be articulated through charades and smiles. Here, mom is learning how to irrigate the fields. (And indirectly helping me with gender work!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My sister offered her hand as well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then, she told the farmer how he needed to pose for the picture. Oh, sister.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And…here it is. Proof I did work while they were visiting! We made liquid soap for bathrooms and attached pictures reminding everyone when they should wash their hands. #preventativehealtheducation #healthvolunteer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Check! We crossed mom’s biggest desire off the vacation checklist. She wanted to ride on a horse drawn cart, charette. This is not hard to come by. It is a cheaper mode of transportation in cities and sometimes one of the only modes available. In this specific instance, it took us from my village to a neighboring village to drop material off at a tailor. There are very few cars entering or leaving my village every day, most days 1-2 that will leave and 1-2 that will come back. Thus, if you are going to a neighboring village after those cars are gone, you can either walk or hire a charette.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Of course we got another matching outfit. Fabric and getting it tailored is cheap in Senegal. For these skirts, we each bought 2 meters of fabric which totaled $4 each. The, to get them custom sewn, in the style we described to the tailor, we each paid $4-5.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yes, I was bossy on the trip. I mean, I was in charge of 4 other human beings. That is a big responsibility. Especially, when they can’t even communicate their basic needs as English is not understood in Senegal but particularly in village.

IMG_9021

2nd Goal in a nutshell- sharing American culture with Senegalese. What better game to teach than good ole baseball? Truth be told, now I can think of a million easier games to teach. There are a lot of rules in baseball and trying to explain those quickly to kids who have never played or watched the game was quite a challenge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Closest thing to a safari in Senegal. But hey, who can complain about seeing Camels?? It is so cool seeing animals not native to America in the wild here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Christmas pic 2018. My camera is way smarter than me so it really is pure luck that the settings were correct and the photo turned out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Why is dad so happy? Well on this entire charette ride, the sand was too thick and there were too many of us on the cart. So, we all had to continue getting on and off every time we started sinking in the sand or the horse was really struggling to pull us. But, in this culture you would never expect the man to get off, so the driver made sure Dad stayed on the cart every time.

IMG_8969

Perks of family coming to visit- getting to buy souvenirs that I don’t have room in my 2 checked bags for when I come home. Since I gave them such strict packing requirements, they all had extra bags to spare on the flight back and I took advantage of that. This beautiful basket is currently waiting for me in America. Also, this is one of the cars that lugged us around on our mini tour of Senegal.

IMG_3410

The best photo to end on. We were all exhausted by the end of the trip.

Advertisements

Bugs, Books, the Boogeyman and more

SLEEP!

Who needs it? Well, I am finding out that I for one do not need it… or as much of it as I thought. Lets just say, this was very much forced learning as I am still alive and thriving on little sleep. First of all, it is hot. I mean, heat like we don’t even know in America. Air so warm that turning on a fan just pushes more of the heat onto you. And, the rains have started. On the few days it does rain here in the Northern part of the country, a desert, it cools off. But for the days following the rain, we get lots of unwanted gifts the rains bear. The sand doesn’t know what to do with so much water, thus the road floods. In fact, the lake flooded and fishermen were casting their nets in the middle of the road!

IMG_6320

River or Road?

Also, the rains bless us with bugs. Well, they are annoying buggers. See, the types of bugs change. The first ones that came are called “wonk.” These are the most dangerous, you could say. I would rather bask in the heat of my sauna-like room than sit outside, where it is much cooler, and risk having one of these land on me. What is so bad about them you ask? Well, let me tell you! Their pee has a type of acid in it. When it touches your skin, you get a blister. If you touch the blister, you risk spreading its acid/pus filled contents and thus spreading this huge blister on your skin that is painful and very ugly! I want to have things to remember from my time here in Senegal but an acid scar is not something I welcome.

Then came the beetles. Annoying but they don’t bite, bring acid blisters, or do much of anything. And, my mosquito net protects me from them getting on me while I’m sleeping.

But geessh these little suckers that are here now, let me tell you they keep me up like a crying baby would if I had a child. They are small enough to get through the holes in the mosquito net. (These holes I mention are intended to be in the mosquito net!) Then all night I feel, or have phantom feelings of, bugs on me. Mixed with the heat and humidity, sleep is not pleasant to say the least.

It doesn’t help that lights attract these bugs, and it gets dark here pretty early. The doors and windows don’t fit very well into their spaces in my concrete room. Thus, the screens don’t do their job very well when there are huge gaps between where the screens start and the concrete walls of my room end.

This gap in the frame and door is how I believe I got my first mouse visitor. I attribute my first mouse to karma. Both the volunteer I replaced and myself have bragged countless times that unlike other volunteer rooms, ours has never been infested with mice. Well, I came back from a few days away from my village and when I turned on the light in my room saw it scurrying along the wall. To be honest, I had to reach out to another volunteer to see if she knew the vocabulary word in local language mouse- I’d never needed it. Immediately I went to the boutique looking for a sticky trap- the boutique didn’t have any. Well, turns out I didn’t need one.

The day after spotting the mouse, I was visited by a group of teenage boys. They wanted to play Jenga; I happily obliged having ulterior motives. After a few games of Jenga, I announced we were going to play another game called “catch the mouse.” Perks of having a small room and few things, we could easily find the mouse. It was quite the show. Too many teenage boys in a small room, my bed and everything being moved around, me standing on a chair refusing to get bit by a mouse. (To be honest I don’t even know if mice bite but I wasn’t chancing it.) We were successful, eventually it was caught in my laundry hamper and taken outside. I’m quite proud. This whole affair went unnoticed by the huge group of people sitting outside my room for a party my family was having. I certainly have matured from the new volunteer at site that screamed when a big bug flew near her or when the lizard fell from the bag she moved.

IMG_6935

Members of the local exterminator service.

LOOK MA I’M FAMOUS!

A project I did in the past, and highlighted on my blog posted in March was recently highlighted by an organization among volunteers in Peace Corps Senegal. Find the link below:

https://senegad.wordpress.com/2018/09/04/water-storage-sanitation-project-in-saint-louis/

 

GEM SA BOPP= BELIEVE IN YOURSELF

I’ve kept quite busy the past several months co-planning and then co-directing a young women’s empowerment camp. The name of the camp, Gem Sa Bopp, translates to Believe in Yourself. This weeklong camp was started to educate young women on the importance of an education; specifically, the importance of continuing their education. Since the camp was started 8 years ago it has expanded to cover a breadth of topics that might never be discussed in the small villages the campers come from.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Welcome campers! We were way to excited to welcome the girls. By some miracle they weren’t scared off by our over-zealousness and actually loved us. On the last day the girls did more imitations of me than anyone else NBD. (Imitations are a favorite part of the talent show the girls put on.)

Held at one of the largest universities in Senegal, the campers get the added bonus of seeing a college campus and hopefully this allows them to envision themselves as college students in the future.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Having fun talking about nutrition and a balanced diet

Each day has a theme that all of the activities correspond to.  The themes for the days are education and career goals, environmental responsibility, activism, health and nutrition.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Two girls I brought from village on one of their first ever visits to the ocean.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All of the girls I brought to camp from my village. We are sporting the flower crowns we made during an around the world culture session. We learned flower crowns are worn during Sweeden’s Midsummer holiday.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The group of people on the logistics committee making camp possible- 5 Peace Corps Volunteers and 2 Female Senegalese collaborators.

CONCOURAN

Well I’m still far from knowing everything about this culture. I recently was introduced to the Concouran. Let me tell you, depending on where you are in Senegal, there can be lots and lots of differences in topography, language, and culture.

Most boys are not circumcised at birth and thus the circumcision is a culturally symbolic transition of a boy to manhood. During the weeks following the circumcision procedure, there are protectors meant to ward off evil spirits and guide the newly circumcised. In my region of the country, these protectors can be anyone who has already been circumcised. The Casamance region is south of the Gambia. In this region, during the circumcision season, which coincides with rainy season, the concouran comes out. What is this concouran? Well, it was first described to me as a person in a mop-like costume carrying machetes. It is the protector of the newly circumcised in this region.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A dancing machine- obviously safe to be swirling and holding two machetes simultaneously.

When you see one, you are expected to run. If you don’t run, you are considered stubborn and the concouran has authority to attack you.  Over time, this cultural practice has become less serious and more of a game in some areas; similar to a game of tag- except with machetes. In villages, the concouran is still very much feared and not to be messed with. In cities, there are different colored outfits. The red outfit, which I was bold enough to photograph, is more playful generally. But people shouldn’t assume this and should still take precautions. The offwhite/brown costume is worn by more old-school concouran and is more dangerous. I saw both in my weeklong visit to this region.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Neighborhood kids running from the concouran.

The first time I crossed paths with one, I did not know anything about this creature. The teacher who’s house I was staying at insisted on going with me on my evening run. At one point, when we were almost back to his house, he quickly detoured and articulated for me to do the same with urgency in his voice. Of course I questioned what was happening. After we turned off the main street he stopped and explained. There was a group of people, far enough in the distance I hadn’t yet seen them, running towards us. Thus, they would precede the concouran which they were running from. A white tourist would easily attract the attention of the concouran. Thus, this is how I learned of the creature and the its cultural significance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Machetes in hand…

Another time when I saw one, I was walking by myself. A man on the street calmly told me to go inside the door to his house and stand with the other women until the concouran passed. Just another example of hospitality in Senegal. This person did not know me but wanted to make sure I was safe and wanted to mitigate any risk.

PXDR8398

The photo I have with this concouran was pre-planned. After I saw this particular concouran on the street, I quick ran inside and told the teacher it was outside. He approached it, because it was dressed in red, and asked if we would be able to get a photo. For a price, this concouran allowed me a photo, without attacking me with the machete.

Here is a link to a video I took of the concouran in action. Notice all the kids running. Then, when catches a kid, listen how everyone is laughing- even the boy.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/i1tl9diiudq07qg/Concouran.mp4?dl=0

 

ACCESS ENGLISH

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here is the crew. Middle school students, their English teachers, American Peace Corps Volunteers.

I was able to go to the Casamance, mentioned above, for a week to help the USA Embassy with a program they sponsor, Access English. This program selects students who excel in their middle school English classes to participate for two years. During the school year, the students regularly meet as an afterschool club. During the summer there is an English club for one week. Peace Corps Volunteers in Senegal help the embassy with this particular camp every year. The program is held in larger cities throughout most of the regions of Senegal. I chose to go to this particular region, one of the farthest from where my village is located, to see another part of the country. Also, because the transportation fees to get to Ziguinchor are very expensive as we are only permitted to travel to this city by plane or boat. The program pays for our transportation fees so the opportunity seemed prime.

Well the 14-16 hour boat ride was great on the way to Ziguinchor. The cabin was spacious- much more so than the cruises I’ve been on in the past. But, it certainly was rocky. Much rockier on the way back and the cabin much worse for wear-complete with cockroaches in my bed. And, my nerves weren’t eased when I learned of the boat making this journey in the past that sunk and became the second biggest maritime disaster after the Titanic. (Since then, many new rules and regulations have come about and despite the rocking and my thoughts that death was imminent, the boat is much safer now.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We made masks when we talked about the American holiday Halloween. We celebrated this on the Senegalese holiday Tom Xarit which is in many ways similar to Halloween.

It was fun to talk in English for an entire week. And man is it easy to have programs spoken in my first language!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I m very proud of this jeopardy board I made!

 

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS

One week before school started, I had a mini summer school program. I used high school and college students as my teachers. The goal was to encourage the younger students to use their French which they hadn’t spoken all summer. (French is the national language so school is taught in French but outside of school the country’s local languages are spoken.) Also, it was to talk about the importance of reading, evaluate and hopefully increase French comprehension through teaching reading techniques. I talked about the importance of reading out loud, listening when other people read out loud, and of using pictures in books to help understand context.

The older students listened while students read, corrected their French pronunciation and helped with difficult words, then questioned the group about the context of the stories. The books were both sent by the high school I attended in the states, made by the French class, and borrowed from the nearest library (just over an hour away).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

An older student checking the comprehension of her pupils.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Engaged and excited about the book they are reading.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Taking a break from soccer to increase their reading and French comprehension.

 

 

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

P1010279.JPG

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

P1012154.jpg

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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, …..

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Host brother, Modou Thiam.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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)

 

IMG_0732

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

IMG_9248 (1)

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.

IMG_1441

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.

IMG_9544

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.

IMG_0190

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.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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?)

IMG_3298

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

IMG_1864

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.

IMG_1294

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!

IMG_1811

Sand, sand, sand EVERYWHERE!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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..

IMG_0455

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!

IMG_1270

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

IMG_0935

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

 

IMG_0936

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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