Posts Tagged ‘ Kaolack ’

Mey ma xaalis! (“Give me money!”)

So those of you who don’t know, my region of Senegal is hosting a Girls Leadership Camp in June. The camp will be held in my town, Sokone, and will focus on women’s empowerment. We’re going to have lots of informational sessions (i.e. container gardening, basic accounting, nutrition training), as well as lots of fun activities (i.e. swimming lessons, Olympics, tie-dying). We’ll invite 40 girls from the regions of Fatick, Kaolack, and Kaffrine. The camp is a week long, and I worked at it last year.

This year, I’m running the girls camp…for some reason. It’s a lot of work, but it’s really important to me, and the girls will benefit greatly from it. I wrote a grant that is now on the Peace Corps website, and I would like each and every one of you to DONATE! Our budget is almost $7,000, and we only have $1,500 left. So, if you haven’t donated, please do! I myself donated a whopping $10. Thus, if I can do it, YOU CAN, TOO.

The link is above. Now get spendin’!

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.

When Senegal Met My Tattoos

People have been curious to hear what Senegalese people think of my tattoos.

When I first arrived in Senegal, I was very conscientious about hiding my tattoos. When I accepted my invitation to come here, all the paperwork told me to bring conservative clothing that hides any tattoos. I also couldn’t have any bizarre piercings. As a result, in my first few weeks, I wore long pants every single day, even though it’s insanely hot here (in WEST AFRICA…I know, crazy right?).

Slowly, as I got familiar with this country and its people, I realized how much more relaxed everything is. Yes, in the north of Senegal (on the Mauritanian border), it’s a lot more strict. Women must wear long skirts that cover their ankles. Luckily, in my neck of the woods (just north of the Gambia), people are less conservative. An added bonus is that my area is heavily populated with Sereers. Sereer, like Wolof, is both a language and a group of people. In general, Sereers are Catholic, so normally they’re more chill because their religion is less strict and they can drink alcohol.

Sokone, my town, is 60% Sereer. When I first moved there, I was a good little volunteer and tried to remain respectful, but as I walked around town, I would see women showing their knees and men wearing shorts. I decided to test the boundaries of my clothing options. I started by wearing shorts around the house. The first few times my family eyed my tattoos and said nothing. The more I wore shorts though, the more they stared. Finally, my host sister Sophie pointed at my camera tattoo and said, “That’s pretty. Do you like to take pictures?” It was something that a lot of Americans ask me. She didn’t yell at me for being disrespectful or make me put pants on. She oohed and aahed and asked if I had any others.

After that, I started walking around town in shorts. People stare, yes, but I figure they are going to stare at the white kid anyways, so I might as well give them something to look at. Adults don’t stare as much, and a lot of them ask me about my tattoos. Kids are crazy though. They stare and point and summon their friends to come and have a look at the toubab with the tats. A lot of the time I find myself being circled by children. They walk around me completely, checking for more body art. I often feel like I’m prey being circled by a shiver of sharks. I guess, in a way, I am. If you’re wondering how I feel about the local children, read any of my previous posts. Senegalese children and I have an, um, interesting relationship.

A few weeks ago, I had a long conversation with my host brother about tattoos. He is about 45, and he was really interested in the subject. He asked me how long each tattoo took to get done, how much it cost, and whether or not it hurt. He was shocked at how expensive it was (I told him the prices in West African CFA). I was expecting him to freak out that I spent so much money on frivolous body art. The amount of money I spent on a small tattoo could have fed his family for a week. Instead, he told me how much he liked them. Oh, and during this whole conversation, my host brothers were outlining my camera tattoo with their fingers. Perhaps they were trying to see if it would come off.

One reason why I think people are relaxed about tattoos is because henna is so popular here. Senegalese women love getting henna done on their hands and feet. They do it for baptisms, weddings, and holidays, and a lot of the time they do it just because it’s beautiful. It’s the same thought process in America: people get tattoos for legitimate reasons (like commemorating something or honoring a loved one), but they also do it just to decorate their bodies. Henna is done for the same reasons, only it’s not permanent.

I don’t know why I was so worried in the beginning. I guess I was trying to integrate and be respectful, but most people here don’t care. Perhaps in other African countries it’s a big deal, but Senegal, I have found, is a really amazing country with a lot of laid back people.

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.

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.

It’s Just a Dollar

Last night, a situation occurred that I believe accurately sums up Senegalese culture as a whole. I will tell this story with as little bias as possible because I do not want to seem insensitive to this country that I love so much.

Time: I dunno. 8 PM?
Location: Kaolack, Senegal

My friend Kourtney and I are walking to the boutique together to buy Sprite. I have my wallet in my pocket, but Kourtney is carrying some money in her hand. We are approaching the boutique when Kourtney drops a 500 CFA piece on the ground (roughly $1). Neither of us has our phone (which has a fancy flashlight on the end), so we’re rooting around on the ground for a good five minutes looking for this money.

As we’re searching, two Senegalese people get on the ground and start helping us search, too. Then, the owner of the boutique comes out of his store with a huge lantern, which illuminates the scene (it was rather dark before). Kourtney and I keep telling them that we can search alone, but the growing crowd insists that they want to help.

Finally, we give up. We tell them it was only 500 CFA, and that we can return in the morning and hunt for it some more. The helpful citizens go back to their original positions (aka loitering outside the boutique). While I am waiting for Kourtney to buy the Sprites, a girl stands up that had been silent and immobile the entire time. She walks over to the area where the money was dropped, picks up the coin, and hands it to me. I thank her.

Kourtney and I start discussing how wonderful Senegalese people are. In America, if I dropped money on the ground, a crowd would never gather to help me find the missing currency. We are genuinely impressed.

Unfortunately, as soon as these feelings of happiness arise, the girl who found the money finally breaks her silence with:

Girl: Give me 100 CFA.
Me: Excuse me?
Girl: I helped you find your money. Give me 100 CFA of it.
Me: ……
Girl: I helped you find your money! Give me 100 CFA! Give it to me!
Me [walking away and laughing]: Ha! You’re funny….

As Kourtney and I walked away, we discussed how typically Senegalese that whole scenario was. As a whole, Senegalese people are genuinely nice, but only to an extent. You can walk by someone’s compound that you don’t know, and they will invite you to lunch. This sort of hospitality is called teranga in Wolof. The Senegalese are famous for it. Regrettably, teranga has limitations. Yes, a Senegalese family will invite you to have lunch with them, but the second the meal is completed, they will either tell you to leave or completely ignore you, implying that their hospitality has ended.

Thus, the girl probably sat there the whole time we were searching for the money. She probably knew where it was from the beginning but wanted to be the one to find it so she could collect her reward. Unfortunately for her, the two stingy toubabs who lost the money in the first place were not willing to put up with that sort of behavior.

I also find it funny (and I’m segwaying here) that people in Kaolack can always point out the Peace Corps volunteers. Kaolack is the third largest city in Senegal, so white tourists show up all the time. They are gracious and speak French. The Senegalese can always pick out the volunteers though because we speak in the local language and don’t put up with bullshit. When I am harassed at the garage, I yell in Wolof and shove people when they touch me. They always just laugh at say, “Ah, Corps de la Paix.”

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.

Gang of Three

I have lived in Senegal for over six months now. At times I feel like I just stepped off the airplane, eyes wide with wonder at the dingy airport and the locals attempting to rob me. Other times I feel like my service must be ending soon based on the fact that I’ve been here FOREVER. The truth is, both are a little correct. Six months is a substantial time to be in one place, but compared to two years, I still have a lot of time left.

Since arriving, I have lived in three cities: Thies, Mboro, and Sokone. In each of these places, I go by a different name, and each of these names is attached to a personality. I call them the Gang (not actually but it adds stylistic flair to this post).

Before coming here, I knew life as a Peace Corps volunteer wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. I knew I would miss my friends and family in America, as well as America itself. Living as a minority in a developing country is hard. Luckily, I had mentally prepared myself for it. Unfortunately, I didn’t expect to have split personality disorder. I am pulled every which way; I answer to different names, and people expect different things from each part of me.

So, do you guys want to meet the Gang? They all look relatively the same, but believe me when I say they are very different.

Jamie W.: you guys know him! He’s 23 now, which is weird. He’s an American. He loves to listen to music and travel. He has two sisters and a dog back home in Florida. Occasionally he likes to drink, GASP, alcohol and go out and have a good time. He’s a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Senegal. You can find him mostly in Kaolack and occasionally in Thies or Dakar. He has tattoos and he wears shorts because people in big cities don’t care about tattoos. He also likes wearing shorts because Senegal is HOT.

Medoune Diaw: he only comes around occasionally. He exists purely in Mboro or whenever he’s elsewhere and talking on the phone with his family there. He’s super chipper and doesn’t drink. He goes to bed early and likes to sit around and read. Because he first appeared back in August, his Wolof isn’t all that great. By the time October rolled around though, his Wolof had improved drastically because he went to school every day to learn it. He never wears shorts.

Baba Mansaly: he’s ALWAYS AROUND. Of course, Baba lives in Sokone. He’s definitely the smileiest of the group. He wants to make a good impression on the locals in Sokone, including his host family. His Wolof is pretty good, and he learns new words every day. Like Medoune Diaw, he doesn’t drink alcohol. He likes to read and hang out with his family in the evenings. During the day he rides his bike around town and meets with people about potential projects. He has a little garden in his yard, which he waters every day. He doesn’t care about his appearance, and like Medoune Diaw, he wears long pants only.

It is always odd when I have to switch from one to the other. I occasionally run into people from Sokone in Kaolack, which is always bizarre. I chitchat with them and introduce them to whichever friend I’m with. I force myself to merge one part of my life with another, even if they don’t necessarily compute mentally. In addition, every time I get to the garage in Sokone when coming from Kaolack, I have to switch to site-Jamie (aka Baba). I smile a lot, and I greet everybody I see. I come home, and I greet my family joyfully. It’s a mental workout.

In order to get through the loneliness of being at site, I dream of when I can go to Kaolack and speak English and surf the Internet. I try to be constantly surrounded by other volunteers when I’m out of site to make up for the lack of interaction I have with them while home. I read so much in Sokone that I try NOT to read when I travel elsewhere. The two scenarios are polar opposites, which can sometimes make for jarring transitions.

Anyways, these are the kinds of difficulties I have to deal with as a Peace Corps volunteer. Like I said, it was something that appeared unexpectedly, and I had to adjust and compartmentalize in order to successfully adapt. Hopefully, in a year and a half, when my service is done, I’m not completely crazy. Here’s hoping.

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!

Jamie Becomes Legit/Installs

So I know it’s been a ridiculous amount of time since my last update, but a lot of ish has happened, and although I have had endless amounts of downtime since I installed in Sokone, I haven’t had electricity, so it has been hard. Sokone has a couple cyber cafes, but I haven’t checked them out yet.

So the last you saw of me, I was a meager little PCT. I was still in training. Well, folks, I am a damn PCV now! I swore-in as a volunteer at the U.S. Embassy in Dakar on October 15, 2010. It was pretty epic. Basically, we woke up at 6 AM, got in our Senegalese outfits, and drove to Dakar from Thies. The embassy in Dakar is really beautiful, and the ceremony was cool. The country director spoke, and the U.S. Ambassador to Senegal, as well as a few trainees who gave speeches in the local languages. It was even on national TV here in Senegal, which is awkward. A bunch of other vols took pics of me, but I didn’t bring my camera. I have been so lazy in terms of photography since I’ve been here. Sorry, guys. I will figure things out.

The day after I swore-in, everyone in my region (Kaolack) drove to the city of Kaolack to prepare for install. I stayed at the regional house for three days and bought a bunch of things for my site. Kitchen stuff, floor mats, etc. I installed on Tuesday, October 19th. Basically, a PC car drove to my house, the driver helped me drop off all my stuff, then drove off. Luckily, I’d met my new host family when I visited Sokone last month.

So, I have been at site for two weeks now. There’s this thing called the Five Week Challenge, where new PCVs are expected to stay at site for five consecutive weeks without spending the night at the regional house or elsewhere. There is no prize, but the country director wants everyone to properly adapt to his or her new towns/villages.

The Five Week Challenge is difficult though because we aren’t supposed to do much in the beginning. We are expected to get to know our families, walk around town, and meet people. We aren’t supposed to work much because IST (in-service training) isn’t until the beginning of December. Basically, in a month, I am gonna go back to Thies for two weeks and do more training (mostly tech, not language). PST was focused a lot on language, which I am grateful for, but I am also grateful for IST because I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I have a lot to learn about gardening, and I am not comfortable enough with it to teach others (in Wolof) how to properly do it.

So basically I have been reading a lot and hanging out with my new family, who I adore. The family is huge. I have my host parents, and they have like seven children between them (between 14 and 30). All girls and one boy, who lives in Dakar, so it’s basically a bunch of women and their children, and all their husbands live in other cities and work. It sounds odd, but that’s basically how families work in Senegal.

There are two babies. LOVE THEM. Two little girls around a year old each. Their names are Fanta and Mama. They are adorable and love me. There is also three boys who are around 5-6 and look identical. I just now started telling them apart. My favorite is this 3-year-old girl named Nazar. She is CRAZY/hilarious. She is how I envision Sca-rah being when she was three. Nazar is a little spitfire. She either runs around completely naked or wears a variety of Sunday school type dresses. That’s pretty much it. She’s either in her birthday suit or dressed to the nines in lace dresses. She is hilarious and makes me laugh. She has also been seen sprawled out naked on piles of clean clothes.

Another thing I love about my family is that none of them calls me toubab. I am their seventh volunteer, so the kids have grown up with Americans in their house all their lives. The neighbor children, on the other hand, need to be trained. I taught some of them my name, which, OMG, I have a new name! Forgot. Okay, so my new name is random and long and I don’t like it much, but I will rock it. My name, for the next two years, is Malamine Mansaly (mal-uh-meen mon-suh-lee). It is a Mandinkan name, not a Wolof name. The Mandinkas live south of The Gambia in the Casamance, and my family is from there, which is why I have a Mandinkan name. Every time I tell people my name in Sokone, they ask (in Wolof) if I know Mandinka. I always have to tell them no.

Well, yeah, so basically that’s my life right now. I don’t really start work until after Christmas, when I return to site. Right now, I am trying to fill my days with books and long walks and chatting with my family. I am almost fully settled, although I still have to buy some stuff in town that I need.

Okay, Malamine signing off. Ba beneen yoon!