An Update

It has recently come to my attention that I have failed to properly update you guys about what I’ve been up to. Because I live in West Africa, it is not always easy to find electricity, let alone have access to the Internet. I try my hardest to update my blog, and I am proud of myself for keeping it up for almost a year now. I also post on my Twitter quite frequently, and I am happy I can update it using my cell phone.

When I do update my Twitter, apparently what I say is unsatisfactory. I had a Twitter in America, and the reason I like this particular social networking site is because my friends and family can see what I’m doing, even if that includes events that are less than exciting. Like I have stated in previous blog entries, my life is not as thrilling as it may seem. Most days I am bored out of my mind because I have nothing to do. I have electricity about a third of the time, and usually it’s on when I am asleep. Thus, I sit around and read, sit around and talk to my host family, or wander aimlessly around town. I also like to nap during the day.

When people find out I am in the Peace Corps, they have these grandiose visions of me saving the world. I am not doing that at all. Yes, I occasionally teach gardening if people are willing to listen to my broken Wolof. Unfortunately, Senegalese people are not that patient. There is a large NGO presence in Senegal (especially where I live), so when the locals see a white person, they automatically assume I am here to give money. Thus, it is really difficult to successfully do the work I came here to do. In addition, the Wolof culture is very abrasive. There is no beating around the bush, so when a Senegalese person is mad and/or no longer wants to speak with you, they tell you.

Of course, I am generalizing here. I have met a lot of amazing Senegalese people in this country. A lot of them are great at assisting me in my work. Without them, I am sure I would get absolutely nothing done. Most of the time, if I am trying to explain something in Wolof, people either are not listening or they do not understand. This is when those aforementioned Senegalese people step in and say the exact same thing I said. Of course, because they are Senegalese, people listen to them. Because of this, work is really discouraging.

Apart from these difficulties, I am trying my hardest to do what I can. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, most of the projects I am working on will not be sustainable. I quickly learned that grassroots development in West Africa is really hard if you are not willing to dish out wads of cash in order to appease the locals. Thus, in order to keep myself sane, I have focused on the second and third goals of the Peace Corps, which are listed below.

1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

On a day-to-day basis, the second and third goals are so much more gratifying. I studied Anthropology in college, so I joined the Peace Corps to travel and meet new, interesting people from a different culture. I have no background in development, and I am not particularly good at it. I am here to teach gardening, but I am not too good at that either. I found that my time is better spent sitting and chatting with people. I tell them about America and about the things that I know. In exchange, I learn more about Senegal and its’ people every day. I am here as an ambassador to the United States, so I work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I get really frustrated and upset when people assume I am sitting around doing nothing just because I don’t have a beautiful garden or because you have not seen photos of successful projects.

I’m sorry I did not do a blog post about the hour-long conversation I had with my host brother about tattoos the other day (he had a lot of questions). I’m sorry I do not update my Twitter every time I sit under a tree and drink tea with a stranger (I do this a lot). I’m sorry if I did not discuss, the last time we talked, the frequent social obligations I must uphold every week so that people in my town don’t think I am a rude American. All of these things are part of my job, and they are really important to me. They make me feel like a good volunteer. Unfortunately, few seem to agree.

My Peace Corps service is mine and no one else’s. I can do with it what I wish. If I want to garden less and chitchat more, that’s my prerogative. To me, making friends and developing relationships is more rewarding than hosting permagarden trainings.

Of course, that does not mean I do not intend to try my hardest to make a difference in other ways. I am really proud of myself and the other volunteers who worked at the girls’ leadership camp last month. I think we made an impact on the lives of 39 young Senegalese girls, and for that, I am happy.

Next on the agenda: mangrove reforestation in September, school nutrition trainings in October, and lots and lots of tea.

  1. We are all proud of what you are doing. You have a tough, lonely job.

    • mama
    • July 23rd, 2011

    Never apologize for being a volunteer and NEVER apologize for being a good one! That being said, I do love hearing about girls’ camp, ongoing school nutrition programs and mangrove reforestation. Thanks for the update!

    • Lindsey
    • July 23rd, 2011

    Tea!! What kind of tea do you drink there? Is it hot or cold?

    Great post. Excellent rationale. You may not be saving the world, but you are saving a bunch of insulated Americans from complete ignorance of West Africa. We appreciate it. I plan to help you with part 3 by spending lots of tourism money in October. Speaking of, Delta canceled my JFK-Dakar flight. Really need to sort that out…. Never fear!

      • Allyson
      • July 24th, 2011

      Ataya! You will be offered it when you go. It’s hot, sweet and delish.

    • kristen :)
    • July 23rd, 2011

    You are making more of a difference than anyone I know so who cares how you’re making it? I’m proud of you.

    • Anonymous
    • July 24th, 2011

    I think what you are doing is amazing. I would never be brave enough to go to another country where everything – the language, the food, the social interactions, etc are so different from ours. You don’t have to be saving the world to be making a difference in the world. I have no doubt that your time in the Peace Corps will make a difference in your life and the lives of the people you come in contact with. It has certainly given me new insights into a place I will probably never visit. I feel as if I have been there from your descriptive and extremely entertaining posts. You are such a talented writer!! Thank you for sharing your experiences with those of us at home.

  2. Everyone’s idea of development, what it entails and the speed at which it is and can be done is very different so clearing away some of that ignorance is a great feat. Thanks for sharing the work you do and your experiences, it helps me reminise about a country that I love.

    • B
    • August 3rd, 2011

    you’re amazing. period. also, i’d like to hear the story about the tattoos eventually, i’m sure that was super entertaining. good luck with the mangroves!

    do they sugar their tea? or drink it black? i’ve recently decided i prefer black tea but sugared coffee.


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