Books I Read in Senegal

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
2. The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone
3. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson
4. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
6. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
7. Beastly by Alex Flinn
8. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
9. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston
10. Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire
11. The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
12. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
13. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
14. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
15. Atonement by Ian McEwan
16. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
17. Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
18. The Shack by Wm. Paul Young
19. Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
20. The Host by Stephenie Meyer
21. Something Blue by Emily Giffin
22. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
23. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
24. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
25. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
26. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
27. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
28. The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis
29. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
30. The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank
31. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
32. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
33. Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read
34. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
35. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
36. One Day by David Nicholls
37. The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
38. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
39. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
40. Kissing in Manhattan by David Schickler
41. Lost by Gregory Maguire
42. The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips
43. The Magician King by Lev Grossman
44. Matched by Ally Condie
45. Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire
46. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
47. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan
48. Wildwood by Colin Meloy
49. March by Geraldine Brooks
50. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
51. Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy
52. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
53. Choke by Chuck Palahniuk
54. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
55. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
56. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
57. Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
58. Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
59. A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire
60. The Apothecary by Maile Meloy
61. Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire
62. Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain
63. Bossypants by Tina Fey
64. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
65. You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers
66. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
67. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
68. What Is the What by Dave Eggers
69. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
70. Noodling for Flatheads by Burkhard Bilger
71. Hellhound On His Trail by Hampton Sides
72. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
73. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
74. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
75. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
76. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann
77. The Paperboy by Pete Dexter
78. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart
79. About a Boy by Nick Hornby
80. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
81. Gilda Joyce: The Bones of the Holy by Jennifer Allison
82. Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee
83. A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
84. Look Me in the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s by John Elder Robison
85. The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey
86. My Abandonment by Peter Rock
87. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
88. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
89. The Children of Men by P.D. James
90. Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

My 2nd 4th in Senegal

Last week I made the trek down to the southeast corner of Senegal for the annual Peace Corps 4th of July bash. I spent a few days in the city of Kedougou, which is a regional capital a little north of the Guinean border. I went last year, but of course I had to go again. It was FAR though.

Sokone to Kaolack: 1 hour
Kaolack to Tambacounda: 4 hours
Tamba to Kedougou: 4 hours

We left at 6:00 am on the morning of the 2nd, and we arrived at around 2:30 pm. It was an exhausting trip overall, but it was good to see people that I don’t see that often. The 4th was spent eating pig (which was roasted in the ground!), drinking beer, and dancing. Typical American stuff.

As fun as Independence Day was, the 5th of July was actually more fun for me. We decided to be adventurous and go tubing down the Gambia River.

Step One: find tubes. We ended up going to this junk yard filled with old car parts and asking the men working there to sell us tire tubes. New tubes were around $12, which was pricey for us, so we decided to buy used tubes for $3. Of course, the men had to patch each tube up, and there were eight of us, so a lot of the day was spent loitering around a junkyard, basically.

Step Two: walk to the river. A PCV stationed in Kedougou gave me specific instructions on how to get to the river from the regional house. After two minutes, we were completely lost. We ended up walking into a lot of people’s compounds, which was weird because none of us speak Pulaar, and we were carrying huge inner tubes. People were polite though and helped us out. We DID end up in a thorn forest though, and I was wearing shower sandals (my footwear of choice) I got a few scratches, but these were nothing compared to what was to come.

Step Three: get in the river. So there were eight of us, and I’m pretty sure only one person didn’t eat shit trying to get into that river. I’m sure if we had gone the right way, we could have easily slid into the river, but we ended up in this jungle of thorny tree species with lots and lots of mud. We get in the river and try to get out of this jungle. These trees were highly deceptive though. We’d come up on a small twig sticking out of the water, but that twig would end being the thorniest bitch yet. It’s like these trees were icebergs. Most of it is under the water.

Of course we got a little separated, and if you were in the back, you’d hear screams up ahead, and you knew there’d be trouble. The people up front would scream “AVOID THAT TWO FOOT TWIG! IT JUST SCRATCHED UP MY ENTIRE LEG!”

We did well though, and I had a lot of fun. I didn’t see any animals (I was told hippos hung out in the river a lot), and thank G I didn’t see any snakes. Woulda freaked.

So to get back to lovely Kaolack, we decided to change it up and take the night bus, which leaves at 6:00 pm. It’s supposed to take around eight hours, but it ended up being 11 because we, SOMEHOW, had to stop every 20 minutes for no reason. We also got pulled over by the local police and discovered that our driver didn’t have a driver’s license. Everything a mother wants to hear, right? A random man driving a bus filled with 50 people through the jungle in the middle of the night. So we sat on the side of the road at 4:00 am and chit-chatted. Finally, we got back on the road. I’m assuming the driver either bribed the cops, or they just let him go. Either way, the system is sketchy.

Anyways, so I’m running on three hours of sleep, which is strange because normally I sleep about 12 hours a day. I’m exhausted, and I also have cuts all over my body, some of which are infected. Just a heads up: if you want to go to the jungle, avoid going during the rainy season. Things get infected SO FAST.

I’m gonna wrap up this post by saying this: in 10 weeks, I’ll be in America!

The Last Leg

I’ve reached the point in my Peace Corps service where I’ve stopped counting the number of months I’ve been in country and started counting down the number of months I have left. I have been here for over 21 months, and I have less than four months left. It’s pretty surreal.

A few updates on my life:

-For a number of reasons, the girls camp I am helping run has been moved from mid-June to early September. As a result, I am leaving a week later than expected. Yes, I know a week isn’t a very long time, but my mind has been staring at September 15th on the calendar for months, and now the date is pushed back. It’s tough. Luckily the camp and mangrove reforestation will be the last things I do, so I’ll end on a high note. My summer has cleared up though, and I don’t really have anything to do until August. I don’t want to start any new projects now because A) I probably won’t be done by September, and B) I’m partly checked out.

-My host family has grown. We now have a rambunctious baby goat that runs around. For a while I hated it because it was annoying and didn’t follow the Animal Code (i.e. wait until AFTER lunch to go foraging for scraps). Plus, it was always dirty and rubbing up against me. Regrettably, I judged it too early and rather harshly. I recently discovered that the goat’s mother (and two siblings) died in childbirth, meaning the goat is an orphan. Now when I see my host brother feed it milk from a baby bottle, it’s less “Why does that goat get such special treatment? Stupid animal” and more “So awful that its mother is gone. Look how cute it is!”

-I finished book #68 this week (What is the What by Dave Eggers, really sad book about a Sudanese refugee). Sadly, I probably won’t complete the 100 Book Challenge. I am shooting for the 80 Book Challenge now. Kids, this is what failure looks like.

-I’m really into podcasts now. Favorites include This American Life and Savage Love.

-Mango season is upon us, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s good because mangoes are delicious, and I love them. Also, and Mama Whitehead will like this, they get me flossing every day. Mangoes are bitches in that they get stuck in your teeth.

Mango season is bad because the war starts.

For those of you haven’t visited, my house is situated in the corner of my host family’s compound. There is a two-foot space between my house and the wall that separates my compound from the neighbor’s. The neighbors have a huge mango tree in their yard, and some of the branches extend over my house. When the wind blows, the branches sway against my zinc roof and make noise. This is fine. Unfortunately, during mango season, the neighbor kids climb onto my roof to grab mangoes. They also stand on the wall right outside my window with a long stick trying to get the delicious fruit. This is fine for them, but to me it’s the most annoying thing in the entire world. They start really early, and they do it on and off pretty much all day. It’s insanely loud when the branches hit the roof, and it’s even louder when the mangoes fall.

They also love to look into my window. It’s definitely a new thing. Clearly these kids aren’t the smartest because I’ve lived in Sokone for over a year and a half and they’re just now realizing they can peek in my window. It’s like an exhibit or something. Step right up, folks, and see the toubab in his natural habitat. They watch me reading. They watch me sleeping. They watch me watching Glee. They watch me changing clothes. It’s creepy as shit. I tried closing the window, but then my room got unbearably hot (it’s usually, ya know, FREEZING in there), so I opened it again.

-The alley between my house and the outer wall has seen a lot of action recently. A cat just had kittens there. The kittens are pretty cute. They eat the scraps I throw out the window. Which, come to think of it, I should stop doing if I want the cat births to stop.

-I recently had a discussion with my host sister Sophie about my leaving. I told her I had about three months left with them. She was sad. When I told her I would definitely cry when I left, her face changed. She said that men don’t cry. I told her too bad. I’m a man (ha!), and when I leave I will cry. I don’t think she accepted it. We’ll see what happens.

To sum up, don’t think I hate it here. I actually LOVE it here, but I’m done. I’m ready to move on to the next chapter of my life (Chapter 5: Where He Lives With His Parents).

Things…

…I don’t use: toilet paper, knives and forks, my French, pillows, shoes and socks.

…I miss about America: burritos, sushi, Diet Coke (Coke Light isn’t the same), cleanliness, Starbucks, fast Internet, anonymity, washing machines, my family, bagels with cream cheese.

…I thought I’d miss but don’t: constant Internet access.

…I love here: shade, water so cold it hurts to drink, the babies in my family, bean sandwiches, free rides, mangoes, oscillating fans, hard boiled eggs for breakfast, free stuff from the vegetable guy in the market, bread made in wood burning ovens, starting a book, finishing a book, understanding everything someone says to me, free calling, sleeping on the roof, sleeping in, inventive cocktails made with shitty alcohol, my headlamp, cashews, mangroves.

…I hate here: the sun, mosquitoes in your net, mosquitoes in general, constant diarrhea, rude children, clothes that never get truly clean, public transportation, dehydration, people who tell me I can’t speak Wolof, garages, people who refuse to provide change, unpaved roads, extra loud mosques, cracked heels, “Toubab! Toubab!”

…I’m shamelessly addicted to: MSG, chicken spam, hand sanitizer, Laughing Cow cheese.

I’m leaving in four months.

Mey ma xaalis! (“Give me money!”)

So those of you who don’t know, my region of Senegal is hosting a Girls Leadership Camp in June. The camp will be held in my town, Sokone, and will focus on women’s empowerment. We’re going to have lots of informational sessions (i.e. container gardening, basic accounting, nutrition training), as well as lots of fun activities (i.e. swimming lessons, Olympics, tie-dying). We’ll invite 40 girls from the regions of Fatick (my region…HOLLA!), Kaolack, and Kaffrine. The camp is a week long, and I worked at it last year.

This year, I’m running the girls camp…for some reason. It’s a lot of work, but it’s really important to me, and the girls will benefit greatly from it. I wrote a grant that is now on the Peace Corps website, and I would like each and every one of you to DONATE! Our budget is almost $7,000, and we only have $1,500 left. So, if you haven’t donated, please do! I myself donated a whopping $10. Thus, if I can do it, YOU CAN, TOO.

https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=685-198

The link is above. Now get spendin’!

…And He Was Never Heard From Again

The time has come, Abdoulaye said, to vote in the election.
I’m stuck at site and in a plight, but it’s for my own protection.
Who will win? The citizens ask, for it truly is a tossup.
Is it rigged? Is it not? I’ve heard a lot of gossip.

Welcome, my dear readers, to the beginning of the end. I’m losing my goddamned mind.

As of last Sunday, all Senegal volunteers are on standfast, meaning we can’t travel. Anywhere. This is due to the fact that Senegal’s presidential election is tomorrow. Consequently, this once restful country has decided to stop resting. The Senegalese youth have woken up, and they are CRANKY. I know I wrote about the election a few posts ago, but in case this is your first visit to my lovely blog, I’ll give you a recap.

Current president: Abdoulaye Wade
Age: 85
Face: scary looking

This is the end of Wade’s (pronounced “wad”, like a wad of gum) second term. The Senegalese constitution states that a president can only hold the position for two terms. Wade is running for a third. He found a loophole. The constitution was changed AFTER Wade became president, so he believes that he can run for a third term.

As I mentioned, Wade is old. Like MAD old. He uses old slang and his grand bubus are SO last century. To quote Amy MacDonald, he doesn’t know a thing about the youth of today.

Senegal is changing. It’s becoming more western. Skinny jeans and sequins are traditional garb now for ladies. For the fellas, Yankee caps and baggy jeans.

Wade is outdated. If you’re over the age of 40, you’re going to vote for him. Of course, I’m generalizing here, but you get my point.

So like I said, the youth have woken up, and they’re not happy. I get texts from my SSC (Safety and Security Coordinator, for those of you who need their hand held just to get through this post) saying there are riots in all the regional capitals. Tear gas canisters are getting thrown around like Mardi Gras beads. Tires are on fire. People getting killed. It’s a madhouse over here.

Thus, I am trapped at site. I have been here for nine days, and I’m going a little stir crazy. I have spent longer amounts of time in Sokone before, but I hate not knowing when I’ll be able to leave. I also hate that I don’t even HAVE the option to leave if I wanted to. It displeases me.

Things I’ve done since being here: rearranged my room, organized my med kit, changed all the names in my cell phone to characters from Harry Potter books, emptied out my garbage can (something I rarely do….go ahead, JUDGE ME), defragmented my computer, watched an entire season of Mad Men, bug bombed my house, cleaned my bathroom, got drunk at a bar and had to climb the wall of my family’s compound at midnight, made an Excel spreadsheet detailing the entire schedule for the girls camp I’m running in June, and wrote this blog post.

This stretch at site by the numbers:

Cups of tea drank: 5
Hangovers: 1 (Right. Effing. Now.)
Number of fellow volunteers I’ve called out of boredom: 14
Hard-boiled eggs consumed: 14
Text messages received from other bored PCVs: 72
Books read: 4
Height, in feet, of the wall I drunkenly fell off last night: 6
Movies watched: 1
Naps taken: 6
Number of freak-outs at children calling me toubab: 3
Songs listened to: hundreds, I’m sure
Number of times I’ve considered exercising to prevent boredom: 0
Number of times my host family, noticing my crazy eyes, has asked me if anything is wrong: 3

If you don’t hear from me in the next week, start wandering around baggage claim at Orlando International Airport. You might spot me.

THE TROPHY

What was supposed to be a lazy day at the regional house became an unexpected adventure once the trophy was spotted. Katie, Emilie, and I went to the toubab store to load up on snacks. We’d seen the yard sale on the way and commented on it, but we hadn’t decided to stop in until we were heading back, our arms filled with cans of knock-off Pringles.

Katie: What the hell. I can’t believe they’re having a yard sale. I didn’t think Senegalese people even knew what yard sales were.
Me: We should really go check it out. There might be some good stuff.

So we wandered over and started perusing the wares they were selling. Highlights include, but are not limited to: broken roller blades, exercise equipment, a dining room table set, shoes, etc. Typical Saturday morning junk.

We were about to leave when I saw it, shining in the African sunlight. The lighthouse that would guide us through the remainder of the day.

The trophy.

It was an old backgammon trophy from some forgotten time. The label on the bottom implied Eastern European origins. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

Me: Guys, look at this trophy. Wouldn’t it be funny if we gave it to Gregg for his birthday? Or better yet, we could give it to people after they did stupid stuff. Like, ‘I can’t believe you did that. You’re an idiot. Here’s your prize, dumbass’.
Katie: YES. How much should we pay for it? 200 cfa?
Emilie: Yeah, I’d pay 200 cfa for that.

We asked how much the trophy cost.

Yard Sale Guy: You can have it for 5,000 cfa.

Cut to us laughing, calling the trophy garbage, and walking back to the regional house.

As we were eating our tubular chips, we got to talking about the trophy. After 15 minutes had passed and we were STILL discussing its beauty and wonder, we all came to the same conclusion: that trophy needed to be ours.

Me: I’m not paying ten dollars for that trophy, even though it’s totally awesome. How about we offer him a trade?

After scanning the house, we decided a fair trade would be the crappy Christmas tree Mary bought two Christmases ago from a guy on the street. It was covered in dust, but it would suffice.

We wandered back outside. I was carrying the tree. The Yard Sale Guy eyed us from afar and turned to his friends, who squinted in our direction. Crazy toubabs.

Emilie: We’re BAAAAACK. We came to trade you this beautiful tree for that trophy.
YSG: That tree? Why would we want that tree? It’s dead and dirty.
Emilie: It’s a FAKE tree. It was never alive. Plus, it’s not that dirty. It’s a fair trade.

The guy refused, saying they’d already sold three trophies that morning. Either he was lying or backgammon trophies are serious commodities in West Africa. We offered to pay him 1,000 cfa for the trophy, and to be nice we told him we’d throw in the tree as a gift. He still refused, but he lowered the price to 4,000 cfa. He was bound to crack.

We stomped away in a huff with our metaphorical tails between our legs and the dirty tree in hand.

Katie: Well, I guess that’s over. Now what do you want to do?
Me: I want that trophy. Here’s an idea: how about we hire some kid to wander over to the yard sale and ask them if they have any Christmas trees? The kid could be like, ‘La la la. Oh look! A yard sale! Hello, sir. I’m in the market for a Christmas tree this fine February day. Do you happen to have one?’ It would totally work.

The girls thought the idea was brilliant.

We leave again. The guard at the regional house officially thinks we’re crazy.

So we wander the streets and stumble upon a group of Senegalese children playing football. We greet them in Wolof and ask them if they could do us a favor.

Kid: Je ne parle pas Wolof. Je parle le français.

We somehow managed to find the ONLY children in Dakar who don’t speak Wolof. We were on a mission though, so we told them in bad French that we wanted one of the kids to wander over to that yard sale and ask for a Christmas tree. We’ll pay you 100 cfa, we said.

So the bravest kid wanders over. We hid behind a wall and watched the scenario play out. We watched as the kid talked to YSG and pointed over to us. YSG looks over at us and starts walking over.

Emilie: He’s coming over here! Act natural.

So YSG appears and says a kid came over and told him that three Americans were inquiring about Christmas trees.

Katie: That wasn’t us. Uh…bye!

We ran away and hid in the house. At this point, we’d been focused on this for hours, but we hadn’t given up yet.

Emilie: What else can we trade? Let’s search harder.

So we wander around the house, upturning furniture and looking under beds. We come across a dusty old boom box at the bottom of a bookshelf. Assuming, given the state it’s in, it hasn’t been used for years and is broken. We clean it up a little and wander back outside. Katie is holding the boom box on her shoulder, much like rappers did in the 90s.

At this point, YSG and his buddies are highly amused by us, yet not amused enough to trade an old trophy for an old Christmas tree.

YSG: So you came back, eh? Are you gonna try to trade that boom box now?

We told him we were.

YSG: Does it even work?

We told him we had no idea.

YSG: Okay, if the boom box works, I’ll give you the trophy.

So he found batteries for the boom box and turned it in. Of course, it’s a fully functioning boom box. He gives us the trophy, saying it’s a pleasure doing business with us. At this point, we were so elated to have the trophy in our possession that we didn’t care how wildly uneven the trade was. We also didn’t care that we potentially stole someone’s dusty boom box from the Dakar regional house.

So the remainder of the day was spent passing the trophy around lovingly. We also had a photo shoot with the trophy, which included freeze-frame-esque shots of us holding the trophy in the air happily, much like they do at the end of bad sports movies.

As of right now, the trophy is in Emilie’s apartment in Dakar. No one has done something stupid enough to earn it yet (if you don’t count all the stupid things we did to win the trophy in the first place). Perhaps one day I’ll do something so stupid that the trophy will be mine. Here’s hoping.