Posts Tagged ‘ amazing experience ’

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!

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’!

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.

Simon Says Learn English!

Hey folks, before I start this next post, I just wanted to say THANKS for visiting my blog. To be honest, how many views my blog gets is directly connected to my level of happiness on any given day. My last post was so popular, so I’ve been walking around town like a king lately. Proper blog promotion + talking about tattoos = record number of views!

So…moving on. I have been busy the last few weeks. On September 17th, we finally got to do the big mangrove reforestation project I’ve been planning the last few months. There were over 50 people involved, and we ended up planting over 20,000 mangroves in the Sine-Saloume Delta near Sokone. It was such a blast. A group of women came out, as well as a lot of Senegalese children. I also recruited 25 fellow PCVS to help me out.

We all took a boat out into the delta, which was a blast in and of itself. We then spent four hours wandering around barefoot planting trees. It was low tide, so we ended up ankle-deep in mud and/or water most of the time. The day ended in a massive water fight with the children. They won. I felt like it was the perfect Peace Corps project. A lot of PCVs came out to help, as well as plenty of Senegalese people of varying ages. We taught them about mangroves and why it’s important to plant them, then we went out and planted. We had a lot of fun, and Senegal and its people benefited from it. A win win.

Also, I got to go up north and participate in an U.S.A.I.D.-funded English camp in the city of Louga, which is near St. Louis. My friend Rachel and I spent a week teaching English and playing games with middle school kids. All of them were proficient in English.

Since being in Peace Corps, I have done a lot of things I’d never done before. One of them is teaching. Considering my mother has been an elementary school teacher for 15 years, it’s ironic that I have never taught anyone anything before. Now I have worked and taught at two camps. I taught gardening at a girls camp in June, and I just spent the week teaching English. Let me tell you, teaching is HARD. It’s also unbelievably rewarding though.

The first day was rough. The kids were shy and quiet, and Rachel and I had a hard time getting through to them. They also acted like elementary schools in the 1950s. We walked into the classroom, and the boys were sitting on the left side of the room, while the girls were on the right. It took three days, but they finally learned how to talk to the opposite sex. Each day was better than the last. They finally came out of their shell a little bit, and I know for a fact that they had fun.

Things we did with them: Simon Says, baseball (which turned into a shit-show), hot potato (with water balloons…the girls were PISSED), Never Have I Ever (not just a drinking game!), relay races (three-legged, potato sack, egg-on-spoon-in-mouth), Pictionary, Word Find.

Songs we taught them: Take Me Out to the Ball Game, If You’re Happy and You Know It, and Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes. (Clearly I don’t know the real names of those last two.)

Quote of the week: “How do you say ‘antelope’ in Engish?” – one of the students

We weren’t allowed to speak any Wolof. We could speak ONLY English, which was bizarre. I haven’t spoken that much English in over a year.

All in all, I had an amazing time. I was exhausted at the end of each day, but it was totally worth it. Hopefully I can do it next year.

YAY FOR MAKING A DIFFERENCE!

Vacance

I’m back! In a lot of ways. I’m back from a long blog-writing hiatus, but I’ve also returned from my vacation in France. I know my last post was uncharacteristic, but clearly it was something that had been bothering me for quite some time, and I’m glad I got it off my chest. I wish I could say the reason it has been so long since I updated is because I wanted my words to marinate a little, but I’m actually just lazy and haven’t gotten around to writing.

I spent two weeks in Paris at the beginning of August, and I had an amazing time. It was a much-needed break from the longest, toughest, craziest, most stressful, amazing year of my life. I have officially passed the year mark in my Peace Corps service, and in a few weeks I will be halfway done. It’s really quite unbelievable that I’m halfway done, but then I remember that I still have 13 months left and it becomes believable again.

If you’re interested in knowing what I did in France, shoot me an email. If you don’t have the time, just know that I did and saw all the touristy things. I also did things that aren’t touristy at all but super normal. These things, such as going to the movies and shopping, were also highlights because I am incapable of such things in Senegal. Being normal after an abnormal year was a breath of fresh air.

I also really enjoyed getting my anonymity back. Being an American in Senegal is like being a celebrity. Everybody stares at you all the time. You get harassed on a daily basis because you’re different and you stand out. Walking off the plane and blending in was such a bizarre, indescribable feeling. I was waiting for my luggage at the airport and staring in wonder at the number of white people surrounding me. I felt uncomfortable, actually. Leave it to Africa to make me racist towards white people.

I spent two weeks in the city of Paris, which I recommend to anyone who has the time to do so. Normally when traveling, I want to cram as much as possible into the shortest amount of time. A few days in one city, and then on to the next one. It was refreshing to be in absolutely no rush. This was what I wanted out of my trip. I wanted to relax and not stress about seeing everything in a limited amount of time. I ended up seeing everything I wanted to see and then some. I ate some delicious food (CHEESE!) and drank delicious coffee, wine, and beer. If you’ve never been on holiday, I definitely recommend it.

Because I had such a great time, I was really worried about coming back. I thought I was going to arrive in Dakar in hysterics. I envisioned the lovely stewardesses of Royal Air Maroc dragging my wriggling body off the plane and throwing me on the tarmac.

Surprisingly, the transition back to Senegal went pretty well. I landed in Dakar, stepped of the plane and was immediately hot and sticky from the humidity. The airline lost my luggage, and I got back at six in the morning because my flight had been delayed five hours. As I walked out of the airport, several taxi drivers started yelling and grabbing me. You’d think, after all of this, I would freak out and break down. Instead, I smiled and thought to myself, “I’m home.”

I’ve been back almost two weeks now, and it has been perfectly fine. I’m just as surprised as you guys probably are by how easy it was for me to come back here. I take it as a very good sign that I feel this comfortable in such an uncomfortable country. As much as Senegal angers me and stresses me out every single day, I really do love it. I missed my host family, who were excited for my return.

The trip did exactly what it needed to. It refreshed me and gave me a burst of energy. The month leading up to my leaving, I was impatient and fed up with Senegal. I got to rest in France and feel like a human being again. I loved every minute of it.

Le 4 juillet 2011

BAM! I’m turnin’ out these blog posts like there’s no tomorrow. I guess this is because I am having a busy summer (lots o’ work and lots o’ play).

Well, yesterday I returned from a mini vacation to the region of Kedougou for the 4th of July. It was probably one of the most fun times I have ever had in my life. Kedougou, if you didn’t know, is down in the southeast corner of the country. It’s so far away that you can see the country of Guinea from the city of Kedougou (“I can see Guinea from my house!”).

Sorry for the back-to-back Sarah Palin jokes. I’m done now.

Anyways, so Kedougou is like a different world. Below you will find a map of Senegal. I am being wildly high tech and fancy doing this, but I feel like this post requires visual aids in order for it to be understood properly.

Okay, so Kedougou is that city really far away in the bottom right corner. I drove from Kaolack to Tambacounda, which took over four hours. We stopped in Tamba to stretch our legs, and then we moved on and drove the four hours to Kedougou. After we left Tamba, the world suddenly changed. We entered the Niokolo-Koba National Park, which is a World Heritage Site that is so insanely beautiful that I forgot where I was for a second. It’s so incredibly green, and there was MOUNTAINS. I saw warthogs frolicking and baboons (TONS of baboons) running across the road. They’d be chillin’ in the middle of the road, and our driver would get so mad because they wouldn’t move as he honked furiously.

Luckily, we only had one car problem, which arose as we were entering the city itself. We were crawling at a snail’s pace.

Us: Um, chauffeur. What the hell? Why are we going so slowly? It’s hot.
Driver: We ran out of gas.
Us: Oh…is that why we’re COASTING down this hill?
Driver: Yes.

Finally, we puttered to a stop right on the outskirts of town. The driver took a can and walked to the nearest gas station. As we waited, I decided to walk to the nearest boutique to buy water. I quickly encountered a problem when no one in the building spoke Wolof. I had stepped into Pulaar country and completely forgot. I did everything in French, which was bizarre. Good practice for France though, I guess. Luckily, I did find a lot of people who spoke a little Wolof, so I could easily get around.

Kedougou is an interesting town. It’s not very big, but it’s really spread out. There are no taxis, so you either have to walk or ride your bike. I was told this beforehand, so I brought my bike with me.

The 4th of July was really fun. We all hung out at the Kedougou regional house. Two pigs were roasted, and there was lots of delicious food. We set off fireworks, which was scary. It was probably the funnest (yes, FUNNEST) party I have ever been to.

The next day, we all walked down to the Gambia River to go swimming. We forded the river, which was scary as hell because the current was REALLY strong. Like, my friend got whisked away and had to grab a tree branch in order to stop herself. Several people lost shoes and other items.

So we swam in the river. There was a massive tree that had branches hanging over the river, so we climbed it and jumped in. Apparently there are hippos further down the river. I saw none. I did see two snakes though, which was awful and horrible and scary. I held my cool, and everything was fine. Maybe I am growing up. Hopefully.

Overall, Kedougou was a lot of fun. As a rode around the red dirt roads, staring at the greenery around me and mountains above me, I realized that this sort of scenario is what I thought Peace Corps Africa was going to be like. Biking around and greeting people in a beautifully lush environment. My Peace Corps service is drastically different from what I expected. Luckily, I think it’s better. As quintessential as Kedougou is, I’m glad I don’t live there. It’s so far away from the rest of the country, and there are scary animals (i.e. scorpions, huge spiders, snakes). It’s a wonderful place to visit, but it’s definitely not a place I would want to live for two years. I was glad when I pulled into Kaolack and the smell of garbage met my nostrils. I was home.

Where I Fly, Explode, & Get Jazzy

Where have I been? What have I been up to? I wish I knew the answers to these questions.

Wait, I do know. I am STILL IN SENEGAL. I have been here for over ten months now, and I am beginning to get itchy. Hence my impromptu purchase of a plane ticket to Paris. That’s right, Jamie is gettin’ outta dodge. I am heading to France for two weeks in order to escape Senegal in August. The way my service lines up, I get to experience three Ramadans in this lovely country. Unfortunately, Ramadan is not fun. Thus, I am taking a slight respite and I am going to wander around Paris for a little bit. As of right now, I plan on going it alone. If anyone would like to come, feel free.

Things I did in the last few weeks:

-Got thrown off a horse cart.
-Got a glandular infection of the eye.
-Went to an international jazz festival.
-Went on a booze cruise.
-Drank ginger ale AND 7 Up.

To start, let me explain how I almost broke a bone when a horse decided to contract suicidal tendencies. A few of my friends and I decided to visit another volunteer in his village. Regrettably, in order to get to his village, you have to take a 45-minute horse cart ride through the scorching African bush.

We climbed aboard this horse cart with a friendly Senegalese driver and were on our way. Suddenly, the horse decided he didn’t want to walk anymore. The driver, beating the animal senseless (which was both terrifying and horribly sad), finally succeeded and jumped back on the cart just in time for the horse to start sprinting like a bat out of hell. It was scary, yes, but we were fine and still on the cart, so we said nothing. Plus, the horse was moving, which was an improvement from his earlier immobility.

After several stop-and-go type scenarios that almost resulted in us flying off the cart, the horse finally succeeded when it took a corner too sharply and plowed into a stump sitting next to the road. Because the horse was sprinting, the left wheel stopped abruptly, while the right half of the cart continued on the path. I remember thinking, as I flew through the air, that I really did not feel like getting medevaced to Dakar. Luckily, my childhood gymnastics training/years of watching the Olympics kicked in, and I landed on my feet. I seriously have no idea how it happened, but I found myself standing several feet away from the cart, looking down at my friends, who were lying in a dog pile directly next to the cart.

My friends: How’d you get way over there?
Me: I have no idea.
My friends: Did you land like that?
Me: I believe so.
My friends: Seriously?
Me: ……

We finally clamored back onto the cart (we were bruised but not harmed), and for the duration of the journey, my knuckles were white from clutching the sides so tightly. I guess the horse was satisfied with the level of fear it instilled in us because it trotted softly the rest of the way. RUDE. We made it though, and the ride back the next day was, of course, a nice stroll through the countryside.

Next on the list: my glandular infection. Basically, the right side of my face exploded one morning because of this weird bump on my eye. My eye was super red and swollen and constantly leaking tears. I went to Kaolack to get medicine, which I took for two days. After little improvement, the PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) told me to come to Dakar. I agreed (even though I really didn’t want to go).

I ended up staying at the med office in Dakar for four days. I went to the eye doctor, which was bizarre. He was French and very nice. I got three types of medication, which I am still taking. The swelling went down pretty fast, and the bump on my eye is tiny and barely noticeable.

I also took a slight vacation last week when I went up north to the 19th Annual St. Louis International Jazz Festival. I had visited St. Louis once before (for New Years), so I was no stranger to the ole French colony. It was really nice to see volunteers I usually don’t get to see, and I had a lot of fun listening to jazz music. All the legit shows were expensive, so my friends and I ended up bar hopping every night to listen to the shows that were playing at several smaller venues all over the island.

The second night we were bar hopping, I received a text message from a friend that read: Come to the boat. Free booze. Basically, there was this large, multi-story boat docked on the river that had been sitting there for days. My friends and I leapt up and ran across the island to the boat. We climbed several ladders and ended up on the upper deck. The party was amazing, and there was lots of delicious free wine. The boat never moved, but it was really beautiful watching the ocean and the bridge at night. You can even see the country of Mauritania from there (“I can see Mauritania from my house!”).

Overall, the weekend was really fun. I will definitely go again next year. St. Louis is a really cool and diverse city, and the jazz festival was amazing.

Last but not least: I found ginger ale in Kaolack and 7 Up in St. Louis. Livin’ the high life.