…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Wade is outdated.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.

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.

So THAT’S Why They Call it a Farmer’s Tan: Jamie in the Field

11:45 PM (local time), Saturday night:

So I am writing this post on Microsoft Word because, currently, the internet is down. I will upload it as soon as I can get on a comp and access the internet.

Today was hella tiring. We got up and had breakfast, then went to an ag meeting. The PC likes shortening everything/acronyms (<~~ reason I am here…these are my people). UAg = urban agriculture (aka ME…there are only 10 of us). Ag = rural/sustainable agriculture. Agfo = agroforestry. SED = small enterprise development. At the meeting, we learned about composting, and we finally left the classroom to go do things. All the aggies made a meter-tall compost pile. Twas interesting. We combined dry leaves with green leaves, dirt, and manure. We built it up in a pile then stuffed a stick in it. A couple hours later, we pulled the stick up, and it was super hot.

We then broke for lunch. More “around the bowl”. Dessert was apples (golden delicious).

We went back and started a demo plot. I have very little agricultural experience, so this is all very interesting to me. I learned SO MUCH today. Every aggie should have a demo plot to show people. It’s necessary to prove that you know what you’re talking about, and you can actually grow. They make great examples. Ag volunteers are merely catalysts. We don’t come in as experts, expecting everyone to trust/listen to us. We come in and introduce new techniques to local farmers, teach them, and help/answer questions. The demo plot had three techniques (and for those of you who don’t care, skip down):

DOUBLE DIGGING: Basically, soil is super compressed, and a lot of farmer’s plant too shallow. Double digging is when you dig down, then dig down again, so that the soil is loose, which makes it easier for the plants to grow and the roots to dig.

TARP (I DON’T KNOW THE REAL NAME): You build a shallow pit and line it with tarp. You then cut holes in the tarp and fill in the hole with dirt. You plant a bed. This technique keeps the water in one place (but the holes are there so the plants don’t flood). It waters the plants slower.

SINGLE DIGGING: Double digging, but stop after the first dig.

We also planted a “nursery” bed, where we will plant some things, then transplant them to the demo plots later.

I actually liked it. It was HOT, and I got a little burned (say nothing, Lindsey/Mama). My normal Florida farmer’s tan has evolved into this epic, Senegalese, holy-shit-the-color-difference-is-ridic-/-embarrassing-for-me farmer’s tan. Tools I used: shovel, rake, hoe (the joke’s too obvious, so I’ll refrain…haha…hoe), MACHETE OMG (not kidding…I rocked the hell out of it, and all 7.2 of my toes are still intact). Number of blisters: a lot. Makes me think of rowing in HS. My calloused hands turned to butter these last four years, and now I have to dirty them up again.

After growin’, we broke for security training. We learned how to protect ourselves in cities and what to do when hailing a cab, etc. We then, and I am not lying, LEFT THE COMPOUND. We have been cooped up in here like British Claymation chickens for five days, and we finally left. Apparently, right outside the PC Training Center, it’s super dangerous. They call it THE RED ZONE. We aren’t allowed there. They gave us a map which tells us the safe route through it to the main road. We stayed with the security guy, Etienne, and stayed all together. The locals were nice. Here’s what went down:

They waved, and we waved back.

They called us “foreigners” in Wolof (which is “toubab”), we still waved.

One woman tried to sell Tatiana her baby. She was like “WTF”, and Etienne had to fix it.

Ya know, normal stuff.

After security training, we had BIKE TRAINING OMG. I have a bike now! It’s blue (Sca-rah, name it ASAP). I got to pick one and test drive it, and I got a sticker w/ my name on it, and it’s on the bike. It’s mine for the next 27 months (then I have to give it back). The bike comes with tools to fix it (pump, etc). I am excited about the bikin’.

Tomorrow is gonna be good. We get our training site assignments! Basically, training is here in Thiés for 9 weeks, but we are separated depending on the language we speak. We have a host family (that we move in with Monday), and then we switch to either an apartment or a different host family in our real sites. I learned today that, of the 10 assignments (there are 10 UAgs), seven are Wolof (pronounced wall-off) and three are Pulaar (another local language). That means I am either gonna learn Wolof or Pulaar. I still have to learn a lot of French though because French is thrown into everyday conversation A LOT. I kinda want to learn Pulaar because apparently they speak it in 27 African countries. There’s a 30% chance I will learn it, I guess.

So, I am going to bed. It’s annoying that I can’t post this. It’s just gonna uselessly sit on my desktop, unread by the general populous, for a number of hours. These posts WANT to be read! Feed their hunger!