Posts Tagged ‘ Chuck Bass of Senegal ’

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, 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 TV. 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, I 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).

…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 damn 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.


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 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.’
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. 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.

An Expat Halloween

I didn’t celebrate Halloween last year. Tragic, I know. Sadly, it was a week after I moved to Sokone. This year, I knew I wasn’t going to miss another Halloween.

Peace Corps Senegal celebrates Halloween in Tambacounda, which is a city 250 kilometers east of Kaolack. See map below:

After weeks of indecision regarding my costume, I finally landed on PETER PAN. I’m not gonna lie, I totally stole the idea from my sister Lindsey, although I don’t feel too bad because I have yet to see a photo of her in costume as Pan this year. Thus, I don’t think she actually dressed up as Mr. Barrie’s beloved child hero.

You’re probably wondering where I found a Peter Pan costume in West Africa. Excellent question. I didn’t find one. Bitch, I made one. Much like my infamous 2009 Where the Wild Things Are costume, I made my own. I’ll admit, without a Michael’s and/or Jo-Ann Fabrics around the corner, it was a bit harder. I managed though.

I found half the costume in Sokone and half in Kaolack. I went to the Sokone market and wandered around looking for brightly colored green things. I struck gold almost immediately. I found a shiny green L.A. Lakers uniform sketchily hanging in a, and I use this term loosely, “clothing store”. I bought it.

Next I found shoes. Shockingly, elf shoes were not difficult to acquire in Senegal. The men in this country (especially the religious leaders, aka “marabouts”) wear pointy/pleathery shoes in various hues anyway, so the only searching involved there was to find the proper shade of green.

The next step was turning NBA and marabout into Disney. Luckily I could easily peel off the “L.A. Lakers” logo on the front of the jersey. It was disposed of. I then cut the bottoms of the shirt and shorts, making them jagged. The shoes remained the same.

I then went to Kaolack to find the rest of the costume. I got in pretty late, so most of the market was closed already. I still went in and wandered around. I found gold leggings and asked the man if he had them in green. He sent one of his minions to fetch them. While I waited for the minion to do his master’s bidding, I chatted with the master. I was looking for a red feather. Not surprisingly, I don’t know “feather” or the verb “to fly” in Wolof or French, so I said what I could to convey what I wanted.

Me: Ya know birds?
Master: Yeah.
Me: Ya know how birds are up in the air?
Master: Yeah…
Me: Well, birds don’t have arms. They have those things that are like arms that make them go up in the air.
Master: Right. Your point?
Me: I want to buy those things that make birds go up in the air.

He told me he knew what I was talking about. He said feathers were available in the market, but not red ones. They had white, brown, and black. I told him I wanted one white feather, figuring I could color it with a marker or dye it with fruit punch mix. At this point, the minion had returned with the leggings.

While we waited for the feather, the master sat confused.

Master: So…why do you need this stuff?
Me: You’re asking me why I’m buying red feathers and women’s clothing?
Master: Exactly.
Me: Well, there’s this American holiday called Halloween. You wear crazy clothes and celebrate. It’s on the 31st of October.
Master: I see.

So the third man (second minion) comes back with the feather. Except this feather was attached to something: A BIRD. The man had brought me a live animal. A fairly pissed off dove, to be exact. Minion #2 must have been some sort of magician because he supplied a dove in the Kaolack market at nine at night. I’m lucky he didn’t try to saw me in half.

So I point to the bird’s feathers and tell them I want ONE of these. They happily obliged, although I felt bad for the dove when they plucked it.

I colored the feather red when I got back to the Peace Corps regional house (hopefully the bird didn’t give me some weird disease). I also borrowed my friend’s green cap, which completed the look. I think I did a pretty good job considering my geographical limitations and time constraints. Below is the finished product:

The shorts also double as shiny green lounge pants. Very stylish with the jagged edges. I’m wearing them now, actually.

Halloween was really fun. I ate candy and danced a lot. Leggings are good for dancing, for you can move fairly easily in them. In the future, I may only choose costumes that allow me to wear leggings. My options are limitless.

Me and My Murse

When I lived in America, I looked a lot different. I dressed better, and my clothes were washed by machine rather than hand. My feet were clean, and my face was less greasy and blemished. I was rarely sweaty. In a nutshell, I was more attractive.

In America, I did what every other guy did: I carried my wallet in my back pocket. Here, that is not an option. Theft is not something that happens every day in Senegal, but it does happen, and of course foreigners are targets because they have money. I learned during training to carry my wallet in my front pocket because it’s less accessible. I did this for a little bit, but I started getting frustrated when I would forget this and that. In addition, coins are really important in CFA (the Senegalese currency). You end up carrying a lot of change around, which jangle and leave bulges in your pockets.

So after a few months, I did what all grandmothers do and bought a change purse. Mine was purchased at an artisan fair in Dakar. It’s green and small, and I love it. It’s very convenient.

I thought the change purse would solve my problems. I thought it would organize and streamline my pockets. I still wasn’t satisfied though. I had my wallet in one pocket, my change purse in another, and my cell phone in a third. My pants were getting out of hand.

So finally, I caved. I decided to man up and buy a MURSE. For those old folks who don’t know what a murse is (aka my Dad), it is a portmanteau for MAN PURSE. For those slow people who don’t know what a portmanteau is (aka a lot of people), look it up.

I was hesitant at first because I didn’t know what people would think of my murse (both volunteers and Senegalese nationals alike), but it has been almost a year since I rocked my first one, and I have never looked back.

My murse has changed my life. I carry all sorts of wonderful things in it. There is a list of things that are always in my murse, and today I would like to share that list with you. Let’s stop chatting and dive right in, shall we?

1. My wallet: of course my wallet is in there. I carry my wallet with me everywhere. It holds my money and my Peace Corps ID, which are both very important. There is a law in Senegal where you can’t walk around without proper identification. Basically, they can arrest you if you’re found without an ID. Foreigners should carry their passports, but Peace Corps volunteers can get by with carrying their ID card.

2. My change purse: as previously mentioned, I own a change purse. It holds all my coins, which are crucial in this country.

3. A book: the pace of this country is SLOW. I always have a book with my in case I have to wait around, which happens often. I have read my book in all sorts of places: the post office, Senelac (where I pay my electricity bill), every mode of transportation I’ve ever taken, every restaurant in Sokone, etc.

4. Sunscreen: the sun is brutal. The bottle currently in my murse is the one I brought to this country from America. I ran out of the stuff Peace Corps gave me. Thanks Publix for protecting my toubab skin.

5. Chapstick: the chapstick I carry in my murse is always SPF during the day. At night, I used medicated from the States.

6. Cell phone: my link to the outside world. Text messages are 20 CFA, which is around three cents. International texts are 100 CFA, which is around 20 cents. I can call volunteers for free, but it costs money to call Senegalese people.

7. Keys: to my room in Sokone.

8. Hand sanitizer: I was always paranoid about germs, but since I got pink eye, I am overly cautious. Annoyingly, Peace Corps does not provide hand sanitizer, so it’s always good to include a few bottles in packages (hint hint).

So there you have it. Above is the list of things I carry with me on my person at pretty much all times. When I’m done with Peace Corps and this mess is all over, I probably won’t attempt to rock the murse stateside. I don’t think the American people are ready.

Miss Me?

Forgive me, my adoring fans, for I have been quite busy these last few weeks. The life of a Peace Corps volunteer, if you didn’t know, is stressful and hectic. Like any 9 to 5 job, I must constantly keep my composure while being frequently bogged down by the trials and tribulations of my life.

OF COURSE I am joking. My life, though it may seem fun and adventurous, is actually pretty lame. I read a lot, and I go to a lot of meetings in Wolof, which result in nothing getting done.

If you don’t believe me, ask my sister Sara (we will call her Sca-rah) and my best friend Allyson (we will call her White). They recently came to visit me (I guess they took my threats in previous posts seriously). They were here for almost two weeks, and it was amazing seeing them and catching up. It was wonderful showing them around my country of residence.

Surely you want details of the trip. If so, ask the girls. Better yet, swing on over to Facebook and look at the hundreds of photos White and me have posted. They are definitely worth a look.

I will solely cover highlights here. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

We rode camels up north in Lompoul, which is a small, natural desert on the coast. Riding back from that fabulous adventure, we got a ride from one of the employees of the campement we stayed at. He picked up a couple of his buddies on the way. The ladies and myself were sitting in the back of a truck. Up ahead, there was a group of large birds feeding on a dead donkey lying on the side of the road (oh, Senegal). Instead of slowing to allow the buzzards to get out of the way, the driver speeds up and plows the truck into a number of birds. He slams on his brakes, his buddy jumps out and retrieves one of the dead birds.
Meanwhile, the toubabs in the car are wildly disturbed. His friend throws the dead bird in the back of the truck, where our luggage lies.

Me (in Wolof): Um, excuse me. Did you just throw that dead bird onto our luggage?
Man: Oh my Allah! You know Wolof??
Me: Yes, I know Wolof. I repeat, did you just throw that DEAD BIRD onto our LUGGAGE?
Man: Haha! You understand Wolof so well!
Me: Listen, and I’ll speak slowly to ensure your comprehension, did you just throw that BIRD CARCASS on our stuff?
Man: Ha!

Clearly that isn’t a verbatim retelling, but you get the point. On the plus side, as a result of this sadistic detour, I got the driver to lower the price of the ride. Remember kids: violence is never the option. It results in angry toubabs and a pay cut.

En route to Toubacouta (a town in the delta south of Sokone), I spied a bizarre sight in the road up ahead (apparently the “road up ahead” in Senegal is crawling with wildlife). Initially, I thought it was a dog galloping across the road, but dogs don’t move like that. As we passed, I noticed it was troop of MONKEYS. These were obviously big, dog-sized monkeys, too. They stopped on the side of the road, whipped their monkey heads around, and glared at us while we passed by in the car. It was mildly frightening. Luckily, they refrained from attacking.

Traveling in this country is not fun. It is exhausting, stressful, overwhelming, and HOT. Going it alone is a chore itself, but when I have two white girls with big look-at-the-toubab-tourist backpacks, it is insane. To put it simply: we were swarmed. Every time. Upon entering the garage, we had people selling a variety of items including (but not limited to) sunglasses, peanuts, birds, teakettles, and hair extensions. I felt like Uma Thurman surrounded by a hundred Japanese henchmen at the House of Blue Leaves (the reference is less obscure to me because I just watched Kill Bill last night). They thought we were idiot tourists who were willing to dole out lots and lots of money. Little did they know that I am in fact an irate Peace Corps volunteer with a short attention span.
Anyways, so everyone swarmed us, resulting in our inability to walk. It’s like being on the dance floor of a club. You’re surrounded by sweaty people, you can barely move, and you can’t hear yourself think.

Man: Toubab! Where are you going!
Man: Hey! Toubab! Come with me!
Man: Hey! Toubab! Want some peanuts?
Man: Toubab! Look at these toddler-sized overalls I’m selling. Pretty, right?
Men: Ha! The toubab knows Wolof! But seriously, about these overalls…

I can’t remember how many times I flipped out, but I know it was more than once. If you want numbers, ask the girls. I just was not prepared for that sort of reaction. As an American, it’s impossible to fly under the radar at garages, but if I have one small backpack and I’m alone, it’s a lot easier than being in a group.

I know there are plenty more stories to tell, but I don’t want to bore you with the details of our uneventful trip. Haha. Sarcasm. But seriously, to sum up, it was amazing seeing two of my best friends here after months of separation. My Wolof improved babysitting the girls, and I got to see parts of Senegal I’d never visited before.

As of right now, I am still clicking along. I am starting a big garden at the high school in Sokone, and I am actively involved in a Girls Leadership Camp we’re hosting at the end of June. I will try to be better about updating. Apparently my fan base is bigger than I thought.

Dinosaur Kisses and Mefloquine Dreams

After taking malaria medicine once a week for seven months, it has finally started to wildly screw with my mind. As I previously mentioned, side effects of Mefloquine include vivid and hallucinatory dreams (in addition to that whole not-getting-malaria nuisance). It is basically a hippie’s paradise drug. It is a mental oasis for Peace Corps volunteers (i.e. tie-dye clad crazies stuck in the 60s) looking for an escape from village life. No wonder the Peace Corps has a reputation for recruiting hairy women named Clover and soft-spoken men named Rain.

Mefloquine has also been known to cause major nocturnal freak-outs amongst volunteers. I know one volunteer who dreamt his four-year-old host sister was in his room trying to kill him, so when he woke up, he ran outside and completely freaked out his host parents when he told them their precious daughter was, in fact, a hired assassin. Another friend of mine tore his hut apart because he thought it was caving in on him. Both volunteers have since been switched to a different malaria medication.

Until last night, I hadn’t had any Mefloquine-related episodes. Sadly, I can now be added to the list of deranged PCVs in Senegal.

I went to bed at midnight here in the PC Regional House in Kaolack. I had taken my Mefloquine after dinner, as I do every Sunday evening. I crawled under my mosquito net and quickly fell into a deep sleep. I woke up two hours later to a mouse running across my leg. I sat up and FREAKED OUT. I grabbed my cell phone (which conveniently doubles as a flashlight) and started frantically hitting the mattress repeatedly, trying to kill the vicious rodent. I was rapidly moving sheets aside looking for the perpetrator but found nothing. I then calmly fell back asleep as if nothing had occurred. A few minutes later, the mouse reappeared on my leg. I then had a second violent fit with the same result. This mouse was officially out to get me.

“I must get to higher ground, just like in Jurassic Park. This is just like that. I’m being hunted,” I told myself in a rational manner. I then slowly started exiting my mosquito net, keeping my eyes peeled for both mice and dinosaurs. I found a ladder and started climbing it. Naturally, I couldn’t touch the ground because T-rexes are fast on their feet. I got to the top of the ladder and surveyed my surroundings. My legs remained mouse free and there were no velociraptor sightings. I came to another mosquito net and made my way through it, arriving safely inside. I assessed my new location and found nothing. The danger was gone. I was finally safe, nothing could get me. I then fell back asleep, exhausted from my Lord of the Rings-esque journey to sanctuary.

I woke up this morning on the top bunk of a completely different bed. I slowly sat up and looked around. Evidently, I had crawled out of the bottom bunk, grabbed the ladder attached to the bed I was sleeping in, and climbed it. I then jumped to the adjacent bed like a flying squirrel and fell asleep on the top bunk. How the other people in the room didn’t wake up to A) the nonexistent mouse attacks and my reaction to them, B) the stalking T-rex that I had SO believed was there, or C) my leap of faith, I have no idea. Luckily though, they all slept through it.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was asleep the entire time. I must have been sleepwalking or something. I remember being so terrified of this mouse, and I hated that it was after ME and me alone. I also remember relating the situation to Jurassic Park, which is probably how the dinosaurs entered the picture. Next week, when I take my Mefloquine again, hopefully I won’t have to ward off giant lizards. If so, I may have to switch meds. I’ll keep you posted.

Oh, Senegal. How screwed up you have made me. Thank you for slowly eating away at my sanity in addition to completely taking away the little amount of self-composure I possessed in America.

SILVER LINING: I don’t have malaria.

Sarcasm in Wolof Culture

They don’t get it, but let’s start from the beginning.

Picture this: me walking down the street. I’m rocking my reflective aviators for intimidation purposes. I have a straw fedora, which is worn topside in order to appear cool and also to protect my head from the African sun. I’m sporting a t-shirt bought from Goodwill and pants purchased from Urban Outfitters (a store that, SHOCK, doesn’t exist in Senegal). I’m greeting my neighbors in the local language, and I’m understanding their responses. To sum up, I’m feeling pretty good. I may even splurge and buy a Sprite later.

Then it happens. I spot a child. I pray he doesn’t notice me. Then, he whips his head around (in slow motion, for effect) and spots me. “TOUBAAAAAAAAAAAAAB!!!!” he screams in a high-pitched tone heard only by dogs and white people.

My head, held so high 30 seconds prior, drops. A single tear trickles down by cheek, catching first on the end of my aforementioned reflective eyewear, and then slowly making its way down my face, falling from my chin and moistening my expensive ($2) Goodwill t-shirt.

My loyal readers, do not fret. Although this is a daily occurrence in my life, I have found a way to parry these verbal assaults.

THE PLAN: when the vile children decide to say THAT word, I will counter their rudeness with a few choice words of my own. Now, when they say THAT word, I have started to answer sarcastically (for those of you who know me well, you’re not surprised). Here is how the conversation goes (translated from the Wolof):

Me: WHERE? Where’s the toubab? I don’t see him!
Me: Where? Let’s get him!
Me: Oh, me? I’m not a toubab! I’m Senegalese! Obviously.
Me (patience rapidly dwindling): Look, kid. My name isn’t “toubab”. Shut it.

Basically, the plan doesn’t work. It has about a 5% success rating, and even then it’s not successful. In the rare occasion that the child gets that I am joking, he laughs but continues calling me THAT word.

As a whole, the Wolof culture does not understand sarcasm, which is a little disheartening for me. The Senegalese people DO have a sense of humor, in general. Unfortunately, sarcasm, my favorite subspecies of humor, is mostly lost on them. As a result, I save up all my sarcastic quips and use them on my fellow volunteers, which I’m sure they appreciate (and as you can see, I also cunningly drop them into this blog).

No worries. I have 20 months left in Senegal. This gives me plenty of time to teach the neighborhood children my American wit. When (not if) you come to visit me, hopefully the children will be dropping sarcastic Wolof bombs like there’s no tomorrow. I have plenty of time to embed my way of thinking into their brains, hopefully resulting in a permanent change. After all, Peace Corps is all about sustainability, right?

The Yearly Trifecta (Senegal Style)

Each year, three big events occur back to back to back in my life. Of course, I’m talking about Christmas, New Year’s, and my beloved birthday. Now normally (i.e. when I’m in America) I celebrate with my family and friends. Usually there’s drinking, general merriment, and present opening. In Senegal, it wasn’t much different, just take away the family aspect and add lots more drinking.

Christmas I spent in Dakar. I ate lots of food (a couple PCVs made an epic breakfast), drank excessively (spiked cider, hot chocolate, and egg nog), and got gifts from my Secret Santa and through the White Elephant gift exchange. All in all, it was really fun but felt NOTHING like Christmas. Because of this, I actually wasn’t too homesick. I got to talk to my family on Xmas Eve, and I spent the day with really good friends. So, if you guys were losing sleep worrying about me, no worries because I’m fine.

The time between Xmas and New Year’s was uneventful. I stayed in Dakar and did what one does in Dakar: hang out, spend lots of money, and eat. Goodness, my life as a volunteer is so strenuous and difficult (…he says sarcastically). I’m quickly learning that my PC experience is very different because I have a Dakar. It’s a large, Western city with lots of tourism from Europe. It’s a major port for the African continent, so there are lots of people coming in and out all the time. Plus, it has a lot of history in terms of the African slave trade. It’s a cool city to visit for any traveler, not just someone coming to visit me.

On the last day of the year, a bunch of us headed up to St. Louis for New Year’s. From Dakar, the trip took about four hours, which isn’t bad at all. I had never been to St. Louis before, and I was only there for the weekend, but I already know I’m going back soon. It’s SUCH a cool city. Walking around felt eerily like New Orleans. Like NOLA, St. Louis was an old French colonial town, so there’s lots of cool architecture that’s now worn down, creating a very unique kind of beauty. It was really wonderful, and it’s right on the water, so we went to the beach as well. When (not if) you guys come to visit me, we will definitely head up there.

New Year’s was, as you can imagine, a little ridiculous. St. Louis was crazy because Akon gave a free show at midnight, so EVERYBODY was there. In case you didn’t know, Akon is from Senegal, so everyone here loves him. Every time I tell a new person that I’m American, they immediately ask me if I know Akon (KNOW him, not know OF him). I tell them no, I don’t know Akon, nor do I know Rihanna or Chris Brown.

Anyways, so I never made it to Akon, who was apparently phenomenal. Extenuating circumstances beyond my control kept me from the concert. It involved lots of alcohol and someone (not me) blacking out in the backseat of a taxi. Kids these days…..

So I headed back to Sokone after St. Louis. It had been a while since I’d been at site, so it was a bizarre adjustment back into Senegal after speaking English with other PCVs for over a month. My family was happy to see me, and I didn’t lose that much Wolof. Unfortunately, I did get sick right after I got back, which sucked. I’m better now though, so again, don’t lose any sleep on my behalf.

My birthday was also an event. I headed to Kaolack and spent a few days at the regional house. My fellow PCVs threw me a party (with blacklights), which was really trippy and cool. They made me baked goods, which I greatly appreciated. I just got back yesterday, and as of now I have very little to do. I am currently looking for a space to start a demonstration garden. Thus far, I have had no luck. I am looking forward to starting projects though now that everything has calmed down.

Moving on…sorry the time between posts keeps getting longer and longer. I’ll try to be better!

“The Peanut Butter Incident” and Other Stories

So, as you may or may not know (depending on your level of loyalty to me/my blog), I have been making attempts at normal breakfasts the last week or so. I have been making coffee (of the crappiest quality, but the package says “coffee” nonetheless), and, more recently, I have been making my own sandwiches. I bought strawberry jam in Kaolack, and this is legit jam, too. It’s made in PARIS (ooh la la) and not DAKAR (wah wah), which is where most things in this country are made. I have had jam sandwiches the last couple of days, which, let me tell you, are delicious, especially when fruit is lacking in my diet so tremendously. It wasn’t enough though. I wasn’t truly satisfied with just jam on a baguette.

So my host sister, Sophia, who is amazing, told me you can buy peanut butter in the market on Luoma days. “PEANUT BUTTER?” I retorted. “Oh my goodness there IS a God,” I said (probably in English because, when surprised/excited/freaked out, I forget about that pesky Wolof).

Luoma day is every Wednesday in Sokone. There is, of course, always a market here. My host sisters go every morning and buy veggies, fish, rice, etc. On Wednesdays though, the market is probably five times bigger. Luoma, like the circus/trade shows, has a circuit. Sokone’s Luoma is on Wednesday, while, for example, the neighboring town of Passy has its’ Luoma on Sunday. In Sokone, if you want to buy something more obscure (i.e. peanut butter, tacky African jewelry, a goat), you wait until Wednesday because you WILL find it.

Luckily, my town is located in the heart of the Peanut Basin, which is in southern Senegal, above The Gambia. My host dad (who is tiny and rides a motorcycle and is named Malamine also) grows peanuts, so I eat, at the very least, a handful of peanuts every evening, and that’s just to be polite. Before dinner, my family tries to force me to eat my weight in peanuts. I learned QUICK to take a small handful and nibble. We then eat dinner, and immediately after they bust out the peanuts YET AGAIN and attempt to force-feed me. I either kindly say I am full, or I flee in terror, feigning illness or a desperate need to go shower.

Anyways, so the Peanut Basin. I live here, so peanuts are plentiful. As a result, you can easily (I use this term loosely because NOTHING is easy here) find peanut butter in the area. Thus, Wednesday, I go to Luoma on a hunt for peanut butter. The market has slight organization (the goats are in the back), but I still walk around for about an hour looking. Of course, I am frequently accosted by people trying to sell me wooden statuary, hair extensions for women, and children’s clothing (I wish I knew how to say “Know your audience!” in Wolof).

I finally find Peanut Butter Row, where there are probably 10 women sitting in a line selling peanut butter. In front of each of them, there is a massive bucket filled with PB, and they scoop some out and put it in a sketchy plastic bag. It cost 300 CFA, which is less than a dollar. I am pleased.

So, the night before my first breakfast of peanut butter and jelly, I can’t sleep. I am too excited (I wish I was lying, but I am not). I finally fall asleep, and I awake early the next morning. I buy my baguette from the boutique around the corner and bring it back to my room. I am making my coffee, and I put the jam on the baguette. I get out the peanut butter, which, like I said, is in a sketchy plastic bag tied at the top similar to how a water balloon is tied. I try to untie it, but I am incapable, so I get my scissors. Here, “the incident” begins.

I cut the top and immediately realize my fatal mistake. Peanut butter is quite liquidous here in Senegal, and the hole at the top of the bag is larger than expected. I am holding the bag, and I can only compare what happened to something along the lines of what it would be like to hold Mount Vesuvius in your hands as it’s erupting.

You guessed it, peanut butter starts spewing out of the top like there’s no tomorrow. I wish I could have seen my face, because it must have been priceless. I also wish I could have witnessed the incident from the perspective of the members of my host family, who surely just heard “SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT!!” coming from my area of the compound.

So I leap up and grab one of the beautiful glass bowls I bought in Kaolack before installs. I throw the now-half-empty bag of peanut butter in there. I stand up and assess the damage. There is peanut butter EVERYWHERE. All over my hands, all over the straw mat I was sitting on, as well as various other places I found later. (Forgive me if this story has taken a slightly inappropriate-sounding turn.)

I start by washing my hands, which is difficult because peanut butter is a bitch to get off, especially without running water. My hands are clean(ish), and I have worked up an appetite, so I take a break and eat my breakfast. It’s good, but I can almost not enjoy it because, as I eat, I look around at the destruction this peanut butter has caused, and with the knowledge that I alone have to clean it up, it’s a little depressing.

I ended up cleaning it all (as best I could). I expect ants, which doesn’t change much because I expect bugs all the time. Anyways, so I thought the incident was funny, and definitely a learning experience. I am afraid to ever eat peanut butter here again, and I still have a lot left (I messily transferred the remaining peanut butter to a clean sandwich bag I brought from the States). I guess, much like Senegal itself, Senegalese peanut butter is something you learn how to master over time. It can’t be learned overnight.

SILVER LINING: my room now smells like peanuts.