Posts Tagged ‘ French ’


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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m leaving in four months.



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.


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.

Le 4 juillet 2011

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 in West 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.

The Sokone Film Festival

Every evening, I spend quality time with my host family. When I say “quality time”, I mean a number of activities including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Watching the women cook
  • Watching the men pray
  • Going to my sister’s friend’s house for boisson (Sprite, Coke, or a delicious pineapple soda called Annanas)
  • Walking to the market with my sisters to buy fruit
  • Watching the news in French and/or Wolof
  • Drinking tea
  • Counting the number of times one of the babies throws a tantrum
  • Avoiding the stampede of farm animals in my compound

Naturally, all of these things are accomplished while a steady stream of gossip clouds float through the air, creating a haze that limits visibility. Wolofs, as a culture, really know how to talk. Their volume is deafening and their words-per-minute are record breaking. This, my loyal minions, is the soundtrack to my life.

On occasion, my family decides to mix it up a little and watch a movie that is airing on television. Usually, the films are obscure and foreign (foreign meaning not American). Lucky for me, from time to time a film I do know comes on. Of course, the film is always dubbed in French, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it. This is because my attention is focused on my family’s running commentary. It is hilarious.

EXAMPLE 1: The other night, I walked outside and found my family watching Zorro. After hearing I had seen the film, they kept asking me when Zorro showed up. Oh, and in case you were wondering, “Zorro” in Wolof is “Zorro” (“mask” is the same, too). I told them to be patient, and no, Anthony Hopkins was NOT Zorro. The men thought Catherine Zeta-Jones was beautiful, and the women thought Antonio Banderas was very handsome. They would help Zorro out and tell him to run when he needed to (“Run Zorro! Don’t be crazy and RUN!”). I don’t know if Zorro would have made it without my family keeping him on track.

EXAMPLE 2: Recently, I watched The Lion King with my family. They kept asking me how to say the title of the film in English. I repeated it several times. They loved the songs, and they were heartbroken when Mufasa died. They kept telling me that Simba’s dad was dead. I told them I had seen the movie before.

EXAMPLE 3: A few months ago we watched The Gods Must Be Crazy. If you’ve never seen it, it’s about a remote African village that finds an old coke bottle and doesn’t know what to do with it, assuming it’s a gift from the gods. My Senegalese family thought these villagers were HILARIOUS. Ironically, the villages didn’t look too different from the ones I’ve visited here in Senegal. They thought the toubabs in the film were equally crazy. Every time a white person was on the screen, their eyes kept darting in my direction to see my reaction. I kept saying, “Hey! Look at those crazy toubabs!” I don’t think the irony was lost on them.

Every time I watch TV with my host family, I realize how identical we all are. I find myself constantly agreeing with their opinions on things. We all laugh at the commercial with the dancing baby, and we all make fun of the Indian soap opera because it’s SO BAD. We still watch it every night though. I am just as enthralled with these characters as they are. Every night, my sister comes to me and says, “It’s time! Our show is on!”

I feel like I wrap up all of my blog posts with my own rendition of “It’s a Small World After All”. I tell you that, regardless of culture, people are all pretty much the same. Yes, it’s repetitive, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I still have 18 months left in Senegal, and if the only thing I take away from this experience is that we’re all the same, then I feel like my Peace Corps service would be worth it. Not a lot of people have that sort of firsthand perspective. I’m glad I do.

Damn, now I have “It’s a Small World” stuck in my head.

Site Visits, UNO, and the River-Walker

The last week has been interesting. I went to my permanent site, Sokone, to check it out and meet people. It was cool. The river is beautiful, and there are bridges that cross it, and apparently there’s a nice beach area where you can swim.

Getting there was insane. From Thies, we drove to Kaolack, which is a big town NE of Sokone. In Kaolack, there’s a regional house for PCVs. It’s basically a big compound with about five rooms, a bunch of bathrooms, and tons of beds. There’s a kitchen, and you can get on the roof, which has views of the city. It’s really cool. There are also HUNDREDS of books there. Like, I am freaking out about this library. They have HP, Pat Conroy, all the classics, etc. There are so many books there that I’ve wanted to read. The plan was for people to send me books, but now I don’t need you guys to (although, when new ish comes out, you’re sending it).

Kaolack is about an hour away from Sokone by car, and evidently, the road between the two is the worst in Senegal. I can attest to this fact, although I have heard that every road is the worst in Senegal. This one was pretty bad though. Potholes everywhere, so cars literally zigzag down the road, sometimes driving off the road in order to avoid the cement altogether. It’s funny that, in Senegal, the dirt roads are nicer than the paved ones.

Sokone was cool. Pigs EVERYWHERE. The little speckled piglets were adorable. There needs to be pig-crossing signs because they cross the street frequently and in groups. There was also the usual array of barnyard friends: goats, sheep, horses, mules, chickens, etc. I met my new host family, who I will live with for two years. Their compound is HUGE, and there are a million people in the family. My setup is nice. I get my own separate HOUSE in the back corner of the compound. It’s fenced in (to keep out the goats, which apparently are inescapable in this country), and has two rooms. There’s a big sitting room with a few windows, and to the left is my bedroom, which is also nicely sized. My ancienne, the person I am replacing, left me some furniture. I have a big table, a “couch” (I use this term loosely), a big bookshelf (!), and a double bed. I also have my own bathroom with a Western toilet. Before you get excited, it’s pretty much a Western toilet sitting on top of a hole, so I still have to get water from the faucet outside to flush it. There is also a drain for a bucket bath.

I stayed with the current volunteer who lives in Sokone, Elida. She’s a SED volunteer, so mostly I followed her around for four days while she worked. Although she’s not in my sector, it was interesting to see the daily life of a volunteer, especially one that lives in my site. I was surprised to learn that she mostly speaks French and very little Wolof. Everyone speaks both in Sokone, so now, after Wolof, I am going to learn French because it’s the common language of the area (there are a lot of Sereer speakers, too).

One evening, Elida and I played UNO with the three kids in her host family. We played in Frolof (French and Wolof). We played two games, and I came in last both times. These Senegalese children are ruthless.

One day, we went to a neighboring village to talk to some people. On the way, the walk was fine, but on the way back, our way was blocked…BY A RIVER. Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: Um….where the hell did this river come from?
Elida: It was low tide earlier. Now it’s high tide.
Me: How are we gonna get across? Is there a bridge?
Elida: No. We’re gonna wade through.
Me: Surely you jest.
Elida [taking off her shoes]: It’s fine. I do it all the time

This tennis match of conversation lasted a few minutes, and it resulted in me agreeing to wade through the river. Luckily, it was salt water, and it only came up to about mid-thigh, but I was still pissed. It was a very interesting experience, indeed. Perhaps in a year, bizarre situations, such as these, will seem normal to me. The prospect seems doubtful.

After Sokone, we went back to the regional house in Kaolack to wait for the PC bus. It was late, so we ordered food from a local place. It was so strange ordering take-out in Senegal. I had falafel, which I was hesitant to try considering this is West Africa, but it was actually delicious. Kaolack is big enough that it has a lot of Western restaurants and stores (I even had my second Diet Coke there!).

Well, now I am back in Mboro. I am writing this outside my room on my laptop, and I am going to head over to the cyber café soon to upload it online. Currently, two boys are staring at me, probably confused by what I am doing. I asked them, in Wolof, if they were having fun watching me. They chose to ignore me.