Posts Tagged ‘ Dakar ’

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 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.

The Other 2012 Election

It has been two months since my last update. In a way, I’ve been too busy to post, what with being in America and all. I’m still a Peace Corps volunteer though, and part of that job description includes doing mounds of nothing. So I guess I was working when I was in America.

Excuses aside, I’m back now. Coming back was a lot different than when I came back from France. Back in August, I was coming back from one foreign country and landing in another. This time, I was coming back from America. This trip was also twice as long as my France trip.

Two weeks ago, when I landed in Dakar, the cab driver was trying to talk to me in Wolof, and it took about ten seconds for me to respond to each question. I even told him, “Sorry, but I haven’t spoken Wolof in a while. It’s a little difficult.” It was like the whole America thing had been a dream.

It wasn’t a dream though. I had an amazing time back in America. I got to see friends and family. I ate delicious food (burritos and sushi!) and drink delicious alcoholic beverages. I went to the Titanic exhibition at the Brogan museum. I decorated for Christmas. I went to the Orlando Science Center. I drank lots and lots of Starbucks. I slept without a mosquito net. I saw snow (I had a six hour layover in DC, so I wandered around Georgetown in flip-flops during the first snow of the season). I rang in 2012 in downtown Orlando with college friends.

Speaking of 2012, next month is the Senegalese presidential election. The country is abuzz because Abdoulaye Wade, the current president, is rerunning for a third term, which has never been done before. Actually, a few months back Senegal made international headlines when Wade tried to change the constitution so that his son could replace him (basically, he unsuccessfully tried to make Senegal a monarchy).

Anyways, so the frontrunners for the election are Wade and international singer Youssou N’dour. N’dour became famous back in the 80s when he worked with Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel. Yeah, he’s legit.

So N’dour is pulling a Schwarzenegger. He’s never worked in politics before, but he’s trying to run for office.

For those of you who don’t know, the Sokone-area volunteers have started teaching English twice a week at the high school. We’ve been tag teaming. We started back in December, where I taught a few classes. Clearly, I was in America for a month, so I just started back up again this week. Yesterday’s class was all about the elections. We discussed the upcoming election and the issues, comparing them to American politics.

It was really interesting discussing politics, in English, with Senegalese teens. They were really knowledgeable and willing to participate in the discussion. Yesterday’s class only had five students (usually around 15 show up), and every single one of them supported a different presidential candidate. Two of them in the class were over the age of 18, so they could vote. Regrettably, neither was registered to vote. This is when I stepped in and went on a tangent, in English, about the importance of voting. They most likely didn’t catch every word, but they got the gist.

The elections are at the end of February, and riots are expected to occur. I feel like, in Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade is either loved or hated. It’s going to be crazy, that’s for sure. I’ll keep you posted.

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 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. These things, such as going to the movies and shopping, were also highlights because I am incapable of such things in Senegal.

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 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.

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. 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 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 I loved every minute of it.

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 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 evacuated 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.

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!

IST and the Holidays

So, when last you heard from me, I was fresh off a whirlwind two days at the Urban Ag conference in Thies. Since then, I have completed IST (In-Service Training) in Thies and hung out in Dakar. I was busy busy busy until I wasn’t wasn’t wasn’t.

Let’s start from the very beginning. IST was two weeks of additional training at the Center in Thies. I was expecting a lot of tech training (i.e. gardening), and in theory, that’s what it was. What it ACTUALLY consisted of was the UAg-ers sitting in a room listening to PowerPoint presentations all day for two weeks. I did learn a lot, but it was WAY too much sitting when we should have been outside digging in the ground. We did do a little of that, and it was super helpful, but I was definitely disappointed because I was expecting more hands-on training. I mean, I do feel prepared to go back to site and start my garden and begin working. I’m looking forward to it, for sure, but I definitely could be MORE prepared.

Things I did during IST:

  • Doodled so much out of boredom I now have a decent sized portfolio
  • Went to an artisans expo in Dakar and bought African goodies (for myself and others)
  • Went to my country director’s house in Dakar for the Five Week Challenge party
  • Watched ‘The Lion King’ at aforementioned country director’s house
  • Led the ‘Grease’ sing-a-long at the party as well (my sisters would have been proud)
  • Ate CHINESE food in Dakar (the owners don’t speak English, Wolof, OR French…only Chinese)
  • Caught up on ‘Glee’
  • Went dancing at a club in downtown Thies

I left Thies on Sunday and came to Dakar. There’s a train that runs every morning at 6 AM, and it’s supposed to be a really cool way to go to Dakar. So, a bunch of people from my stage woke up at 5 AM, gathered up our luggage (a month’s worth), and walked to the train station. Let me tell you, the train station is pretty far from the Training Center, and we couldn’t find taxis that early. We finally arrive at the station, and OF COURSE the trains don’t run on Sundays, even though we asked some Senegalese people the day before if it did, and they said yes. So, we ended up taking the bus, which was fine. Personally, I was livid that I woke up so freakin’ early for no reason, but it’s fine now. We made it.

Since then, I’ve been hanging out in Dakar. This city really has everything. I ate delicious pad thai last night, and I have eaten amazing ice cream on several occasions. I went to the only bowling alley in West Africa and took photos in the photobooth there. I have been swimming in the pool here at the American Club, which is an exclusive club for ex-pats. It’s free for PCVs. I have gone to Casino a couple times, which is a French grocery store that is AIR CONDITIONED. I walked up and down the aisles experiencing reverse culture shock. Casino even has Ben & Jerry’s, which blew my mind. I know I’ve only been here for four months, but it has been four months of Wolof and ceebu jen only.

Today is Christmas Eve, which is very surreal for me. It doesn’t feel like the holidays at all. It’s difficult to get into the Xmas spirit living in an Islamic country. Dakar is more decorated than the rest of the country, but it’s still bizarre to be away from my family this time of year. The PCVs staying in Dakar all have Secret Santas, and we have a White Elephant gift exchange planned for Xmas day. It should be fun. For New Year’s, I am headed to St. Louis, which is the second largest city in Senegal. It’s up north, also on the Atlantic coast. It’s an old French colonial town, so there’s lots of cool architecture there. It should be fun.

Anyways, readers, I hope all of you have an amazing Christmas and a happy New Year. Relish in the fact that you are with your family in a country that celebrates these holidays. If I don’t update again, I’ll be seeing you in 2011.

Jamie’s Night at the Ambassador’s

I went to Dakar for Thanksgiving. All the regional houses throughout the country had big Thanksgiving meals, and I considered Kaolack because it’s my region and it’s close, but ultimately I decided to head to the big city because I wanted to get to know it. I had been to Dakar for the day twice, so I wanted to stay for a few days while I had a good excuse.

Normally, I would take public transportation to get to Dakar, but luckily, a PC car was driving through Kaolack on Wednesday, so I hitched a ride with them. PC cars are amazing because they’re air-conditioned and there’s leg room. The ride took about 4 hours (it’s not far, but the roads suck here so it takes forever).

I got to Dakar Wednesday evening. I felt a little awkward at first because everyone, minus a few people (including me), was in the Dakar region, so I felt like I was crashing their party. They were super welcoming though and gave me a bowl of chili as I walked in the door.

So Dakar is huge. There’s over a million people, and it’s super Senegalese but also super Western at the same time. Downtown and the beach-areas are all beautiful with art and nice hotels, but then the suburbs are just like any other Senegalese town. It takes about 20 minutes to get anywhere in a taxi, and everything is unbelievably expensive. I was there for three days and spent SO MUCH.

The day of Thanksgiving, we went to the American Club, which is downtown. There’s a pool there and a bar and Wi-Fi. It’s for Americans living in Dakar and their families. It’s free for PCVs, which is amazing because normally it’s crazy expensive. We sat by the pool and read and chatted, then we went back to the regional house to prepare food. The U.S. Ambassador to Senegal hosts Thanksgiving dinner at her house every year, and she invites the PC country director (my boss) and any PCVs in the area to attend if they want. You, of course, have to bring a dish as well. I cooked nothing but went in on a dish with a couple people. I provided financial support and cut up vegetables.

We arrived at 5:45 PM, which was 45 minutes late. The taxi driver got lost, and we ended up on the Corniche, which is a road that, after dark, has been known to have machete-wielding men looking for white tourists. The driver kicked us out in anger, so we walked the Corniche a little looking for a cab, which is not easy.

We finally get there, have several glasses of wine, and eat. It was buffet style because there was like 80 people there, but I hate a ridiculous amount. I think my stomach has shrunk because I eat less here, but I definitely expanded it again at this dinner. It was so bizarre sitting in a nice house with A/C eating American food. It felt so normal, which is a rare feeling for me these days. I dressed up in a shirt and slacks, which was also weird because normally I wear grungy clothes. It was a nice change of pace.

The next day we went back to the American Club and spent the day there hanging out. For dinner we went to this French restaurant, where I ate an AVOCADO SALAD. Salads are nonexistent in this country. It was really expensive but worth it.

Yesterday I loaded into a PC car and headed to Thies for the UAg Summit. It’s a bi-annual meeting for everyone in my sector. It’s been interesting to see what older volunteers are doing at their sites. I’m starting to get a feel for urban agriculture, which is good because I have to do it for the next two years. It’s also fun to see my fellow UAg friends, who I hadn’t seen in six weeks. It’s bizarre being back at the training center. PST felt like a lifetime ago, even though it’s only been a month and a half.

Thursday is the first day of the all-volunteer conference here in Thies. All 200-something vols in Senegal will be here, which is gonna be overwhelming. After all vol is IST, which is three weeks of intense ag-related training. Gonna be fun.

Tabaski (aka Ta-BADASS-ki)

Oh, Tabaski. What an interesting holiday. It’s a cross between Thanksgiving, Halloween, and a Quentin Tarantino film. You’ll see why.

Tabaski and Korite are the big holidays in Senegal. Korite marks the end of Ramadan. Tabaski celebrates when Abraham DIDN’T sacrifice his son. For those of you who don’t know the story, God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham takes Isaac to the top of this mountain and is about to kill his son, when God comes and stops him. He goes, “Whoa whoa whoa. You were gonna actually kill him? Okay, so you don’t have to do it. Here, kill this ram instead.” Thus, on Tabaski, everyone slaughters a ram and eats it. I’m getting ahead of myself though…the bloodbath will come.

I woke up at 8 AM and had breakfast with my family. Ironically, on Tabaski, I had my worst breakfast since arriving in Sokone. I usually have a bean sandwich or, as of late, a PB&J or PB and banana (that’s right!). On Tabaski, I had a mayonnaise sandwich. They slathered half a baguette with mayonnaise before I could oppose. I nibbled it, and attempted to smear the mayonnaise off to no avail.

I then went to mosque to pray. I know, right? I got decked out in my Senegalese outfit (hat included) and walked with the other men in my family to the mosque. The heads of household went inside, and the others (non-married uncles, children, me, etc.) were stuck outside. I was there about an hour. It was actually really interesting. There was a lot of chanting, and we would stand up, then sit down, then stand up again. I just watched and sat quietly. I did what I usually do when people around me pray: I clasped my hands together in front of me, put my head down, kept my eyes open, and sang a song in my head. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite and do what they were doing because they know I’m not Muslim, so I managed to avoid doing much until the end. They proceeded to kneel down, facing Mecca, and put their foreheads on the ground for five minutes. I couldn’t stand there while they all knelt, so I did the same. I put my forehead to the ground.

WARNING: the following paragraphs are a little graphic, so skip them if you don’t want to read about the painful death of two rams (Allyson).

After we prayed at the mosque, we then went home and killed two animals. My family had bought two rams earlier in the week. The boys in my family washed them, much like the family dog. Except, unlike the family dog, after the rams’ bath, my host dad slit their throats. I missed the sacrifice of the first ram because my family forced me to run inside to get my camera. I came back, and they were draining the blood into a hole they dug in the sand. I took an EPIC photo of the entire family, babies included, smiling in front of the ram, which was dead and bleeding profusely from the neck. It was terrifying because, after the ram died, it still kept moving for a few minutes. Freaked me out.

I then watched my dad kill the second one. I didn’t want to, but I felt like I needed to. I don’t know why, and I could have waited until next year’s Tabaski (yep, I get two Tabaskis in Senegal…I’m here THAT LONG), but I wanted to watch. It was sick, and there were noises I wasn’t expecting, and like the first ram, the second ram moved a lot after death. After I watched the rams get slaughtered, I watched the men in my family skin and cut up the carcasses. This was another don’t-want-to-but-feel-like-I-should kind of thing. Truly disgusting, but I watched with morbid fascination, unblinking, for about an hour. The memories are ingrained in my mind forever.

The rest of the afternoon consisted of me eating my weight in food. We had ram liver (chewy) for brunch, and then lunch, which consisted of meat, meat, potatoes, meat, onions, and meat. After, I was DYING I was so full. My family then dropped this bomb: we had to go to other houses and eat lunch at each of them. I’m pretty sure I said in English, “SERIOUSLY?” Yep, I went to two other houses and was force-fed by a scary Senegalese woman living at each one. I felt like Rory and Lorelei going to four Thanksgivings. Unknowingly, I had been training my entire life for this one day of immense overeating. I’m shocked I didn’t vomit all over the bones lying around that second compound. I felt like I was in a damn lion’s den.

At about 7 PM, two of my sisters (Fatou, 15 and Mamy, 16) told me to put on my Senegalese outfit because we were going on a walk “to the garage”. I begrudgingly said yes but wasn’t looking forward to it because, at night, the area around the garage becomes, for teens, a Senegalese mall-on-a-Friday-night-circa-2001.

Luckily, we never made it to the mall, I mean, garage. We walked across town to Fatou’s friends’ house. Her “friend” ended up being her secret boyfriend. Scandalous, I know. Fatou and her S.O. chatted for about an hour while me and Mamy sit in the corner and thought/chatted awkwardly. We left, and on the walk back, Fatou tells me to lie and say we went to the garage because Baba (my host dad) doesn’t know about her boyfriend. This is all in Wolof, of course. I agree to be involved in the scandal. It’s funny how petty drama must be completely unavoidable in life because I am finding here in Senegal.

Yep, so that was Tabaski. Technically, it was a three-day event. The second and third days were pretty much normal days, except we continued to eat the ram, which sat out unrefrigerated for days. My stomach, luckily, weathered the storm.

I am now at the Kaolack house. I am headed to Dakar soon for Thanksgiving. It’s gonna be good.

Cliffs, Monkeys, and DAKAR OMG

So it has been a whirlwind week. I was in Thies for seven days (pretty much). I survived my first (and only) counterpart workshop. I went to the beach (again). I saw two monkeys in two days. I jumped off a cliff into the Atlantic Ocean. I went to Dakar. All of these things will be explained.

Okay, so counterpart workshop. Every volunteer has a counterpart that lives in his or her town/village. Their job is to help network, meet new people, etc. It’s good because there will be a local person in your town who can show you the ropes. OF COURSE, my counterpart did not come. In his place, he sent a woman from Sokone who has a garden. My counterpart, allegedly, is a farmer. Now, I know I haven’t been in the agricultural field for very long, but I know there’s a big difference between a legit farmer and a woman with a garden. The woman, Khady, was really nice. Unfortunately, her Wolof is REALLY hard to understand, and the workshop itself was stressful, so my two days were not good. I was exhausted, and there were people everywhere (night and day because the counterparts stayed at the center with us). We basically went to a bunch of seminars. The workshop is for the counterparts, not the volunteers. Everything said in the workshop was stuff I already knew (What is the PC? What are our goals? Etc.)

After counterpart workshop was POPINGUINE. Basically, the most popular beach town in Senegal (for locals AND tourists) is called Popinguine. It’s tradition for every stage to have a fun weekend in Popinguine during PST. We went out a MASSIVE house (it was beautiful) and let loose for the weekend. It was good because I got to know other people from my stage who I had never really had a chance to get to know.

The beach was beautiful. Down the beach was a massive cliff, which was totally picturesque (I forgot my camera because I’m a dumbass). Also in the water was a massive rock that was probably 50 feet tall. The first day, a bunch of vols decided to climb the rock, which is several feet from the beach, and jump from the other side into the deeper water. Initially, I was like, “HELLS NO”. Then, on the second day, I decided to. It was worth it. It was scary as hell though because we had to climb the vertical rock wall to get to the top, which we did barefoot and in bathing suits. I have never rock climbed in my life, so it’s funny the first time I did it was half naked, barefoot, and wet. Four of us went the second day, and I went second. I got to the top and was freaking out, but literally the only way down was to jump. I did it though.

Driving back from the beach (we took two Alhams, which are the big Senegalese buses) was when I saw my first monkey. It literally ran across the road in front of us. I busted out laughing and said, “Did anyone else see that?” Only a few people did. It was a legit monkey, too. Prehensile tail and everything. The next day, when we were headed to Dakar, I saw my second monkey. This one was rooting through luggage sitting on top of an Alham. It was hilarious seeing a monkey on a city bus on the outskirts of Dakar.

Monday was Dakar day. Considering I was only in the Dakar airport the first day I got to Senegal, it was good to go back and see what’s up. We walked around the city some, which is HUGE and super Western. Everyone says Dakar is NOT Senegal, which I can see. I literally felt like I was walking around downtown Orlando or something. Big buildings, cute little parks, beautiful statues, people selling souvenir artwork on the road. It was crazy. We had lunch at the American Club, which is connected to an international school. I had a chicken wrap and fries, which was BIZARRE considering I have only eaten ceebu jen for two months. We also visited the American embassy, and we went to the PC office in Dakar, which is also awesome and huge. The med hut is there, so if I ever get super sick and have to go to Dakar, that’s where I’ll stay.

Also in Dakar is this MASSIVE statue built a few years ago for the African Renaissance. It’s bronze and bigger than the Statue of Liberty. It’s on top of this hill, so it can be seen from everywhere. Google it. It’s awesome. It’s this man and woman holding this baby into the air. Its’ size reminded me of the big statue of Jesus in Brazil, majestically hanging out atop a hill.

Every vol in Senegal goes to Dakar every few months for some reason, regardless of how far away they are. There is always a conference there or something going on. I am going there in December for the all-volunteer conference that is held there every year. I am going back in February for this big softball tournament that everyone attends called WAIST (West African Invitational Softball Tournament). It’s good that I’m at least a little familiar with the city now because I will return, and it’s definitely intimidating.

Now I’m back in Mboro. It’s my last week here. I go back on Tuesday for good, which is sad. I swear-in as a real volunteer (In Dakar, of course) on October 15th, and I install on the 20th in Sokone. It’s bittersweet. I want to settle down in my site, but I have made some unbelievable friends during PST, and now we are going to be scattered all over the country. It makes me sad. I will see them often enough, but everything is going to change.

Moving forward, I will leave you now. Sorry it took so long to update. A lot has happened this past week, and I had little downtime. Until next time, friends.

Meet Joe Black…wait, that’s not right…(Part 2)

Hello, minions. My most loyal followers have already read Part 1 of the epic home stay saga (in theaters July 2011). For those few stragglers, see below to read the first part (and maybe you should re-think your priorities a little…just sayin’).

So I introduced the family. Interesting people. To clear things up (LINDSEY), Medoune Diaw #1 is the Papa, and I am Medoune Diaw #3. MD #2 is my other brother. It’s confusing.

Because it’s Ramadan, the family (minus the children) fast during the day. They still cook lunch for me (cut-up spaghetti with a weird onion sauce EVERY DAY), and they break fast at 7:30. We eat baguettes and drink Cafe Touba (coffee) with enough sugar that I usually have to eat it with a spoon (<~~ sarcasm). They slather every inch of the baguette with butter, which I dislike, so I quickly learned how to “I don’t like butter” in Wolof (“Begguma burr”). When I first said this, they thought I was just practicing Wolof, so they cheered and preceded to dunk my baguette headfirst in butter. I said, “Guys, legit, I don’t like butter.” They finally got it. Now I just eat the bread alone, which is fine by me. I like bread.

Dinner is served at the lovely hour of 10 PM, after evening prayer. I hang out with my family between break fast and dinner. Here we watch the news (in French AND Wolof), and they teach me things/laugh at my misuse of the language. Dinner is ALWAYS ceebu jen, which is the national dish of Senegal. It’s rice (ceeb…pronounced “cheb”) and fish (jen). It’s served, like in the Training Center, in a MASSIVE bowl, and we all sit around it and eat. The men in my family get spoons (myself included), and the women eat with their hands. They get rice, ball it up, and shove it in their mouths. We don’t really talk. Sometimes they point to a carrot and teach me the Wolof word for it. Ceebu jen is really, really good, but I envision myself getting sick of it quickly. I don’t know if I can eat it EVERY DAY for two years. We’ll see what happens.

So I am always exhausted from my long day of Wolof, so after dinner I usually stand up and say “Surr na” (“I’m full”). They freak out and scream “Lekk! Lekk!” (“Eat eat!”). They think I don’t eat enough. I slowly walk away, saying “Surr na! Surr na!”. Then I say “Souba ci souba!” (“See you tomorrow morning!”), and go in my room. After Ramadan, I will be better at hanging out with them after dinner, but we eat SO late that I usually fall asleep right after.

I have found that Senegal fits my sleeping needs perfectly. There’s not a lot to do, so I sleep ALL THE TIME. I go to bed at 11ish, then wake up at 8 (9 hours). I have Wolof from 9 until 1, then I come home and eat lunch. I eat alone in my room because it’s rude to eat in front of them while they’re fasting. I then take a 1-hour nap and go back to class at 3:30. Class ends at 7, so I go home and break fast. This has become the routine. This sort of stability is very helpful because it structures my day and makes the time go by faster.

Wolof class has been really fun. As you read this, you’re probably like “Eight hours of Wolof a day? That sounds horribly dreadful!” (apparently you’re British now, whoever you are). Wolof class is fun though, and the alternative is hanging out with your family all day, who doesn’t speak English. Plus, I crave the knowledge. When I learned French in HS/college, I thought it was interesting, but it was a requirement, so I just went along with it. Here, I have to know the language, and the more I know, the more I can speak with my family at night, so my drive to learn is heightened. The three other girls in my group feel the same way. We find ourselves asking advanced questions, and we completely throw off Sidy’s lesson plan. Every morning, the four of us get to class with a list of questions. I write down A LOT when I’m sitting with my family because they say something I don’t understand, so I make a note to ask Sidy about it the following day.

Class is held at Sidy’s house. Like us trainees, Sidy is staying with a host family as well. He is from Dakar, so he had never been to Mboro, too. There is a chalkboard leaned up against a tree, and Sidy teaches. Me and my group sit on a basaan (mat) on the ground and frantically take notes. The shade from the tree makes the temperature perfect. Not too hot. Sidy’s host family likes to sit near us and laugh at us butchering Wolof. The family has a baby, who likes to walk around and mess with us. He’s adorable.

Sorry I keep jumping around subject-wise, but this is kind of how my brain functions (if you hadn’t noticed).

SO, the question that’s on everyone’s minds: the toilet. I share a bathroom with the random family that lives in my building. There are two doors. One leads to the little room with the hole in the ground, and the other leads to the little room where I take my bucket bath. I have a big bucket of water and a little cup, and every morning I just pour the water all over me, soap up, then rinse. It uses less water than a normal shower. It’s not ideal, but I can deal.

The Turkish toilet has been an adjustment. By the end of my service, I am gonna have thighs of steel from the squatting. I still use toilet paper, which the PC graciously provided. I tried the paper-free water way, but I ended up with a wet lower half that still wasn’t clean. I was also in there for about half an hour. It’s a delicate art that hopefully I will master soon (apparently TP is expensive here, and the PC isn’t always going to provide it). The whole thing is highly comical. I have found my nemesis in the whole be-your-own-bidet department. I see how convenient it is and how hygienic it is, but the actual practice is mad difficult.

So…I feel like I have nothing else to say. Today is pretty mellow. We did a home stay debriefing this morning, and we have more shots this afternoon (a second rabies shot included). Obviously, there are a million things that happened that I can’t fit into my blog, so if you ask questions, I will attempt to answer them in my next update. I am at the Center until Wednesday, so I will have internet until then.