Posts Tagged ‘ La Gazelle ’

…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 goddamned 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Wade is outdated.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.

Le 4 juillet 2011

BAM! I’m turnin’ out these blog posts like there’s no tomorrow. I guess this is because I am having a busy summer (lots o’ work and lots o’ play).

Well, 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 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 scorching African 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 medevaced 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 drink drink drink. Goodness, my life as a volunteer is so strenuous and difficult (…he says sarcastically). I’m quickly learning that my PC experience in Africa is very different because I have a Dakar. Senegal, like most African countries, is highly undeveloped. UNLIKE most African countries though, Senegal has 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 N.O., 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!

Toubacouta

Goodness gracious, this Five Week Challenge sucks. The first three weeks have past, and I was doing fine. I was visiting fields, walking around, setting up my house, hanging out with my family, reading lots and lots of books, etc. Now, I am going a little crazy. I still have two weeks to go, which I know I am capable of, but sometimes I just want to up and go to Kaolack and excessively use the Internet and drink and speak in English. Hopefully I will not do that.

MAJOR UPDATE, PEOPLE: I have electricity now! I no longer read/write in my journal by candlelight in the evenings. AND, I was worried the electricity would make my little house depressing (because, in Mboro, my cell/room was super dingy and depressing at night), but it’s still pleasant at night. I have been watching episodes of 30 Rock before I go to bed, which is bizarre, yet I love it. My family has about 25 people in it, and there is always someone in the compound. Well, of course, when the electrician came to turn on the electricity, everyone disappeared, and I had to explain everything in Wolof. I did fairly well, considering I was discussing electricity and installations and such.

Sunday, another volunteer and I biked down to Toubacouta, which is a town 20K (12.4 miles) southwest of Sokone on the delta. Sokone has some tourists, but Toubacouta is a destination for European travelers (and some American). It’s gorgeous there, let me tell you. There are two super nice hotels, which we walked through to get to a dock on the river (there’s a SED volunteer there who knows some of the employees, so we could go on the hotel’s dock). I felt like I was in Key West or something. There was a gorgeous pool with several Speedo-clad Frenchmen lounging around its’ perimeter. Next to the pool there was a bar, and scattered throughout the pool area were several comfy little nooks, which were filled with other toubabs using the hotel’s free Wi-Fi. There have been only a handful of times in my three months here where I didn’t feel like I was in Africa, and this was one of them.

There are also 11 campements in Toubacouta. A campement is very similar to a hotel, but instead of indoor rooms, there are several bungalows where guests stay, and usually dinners are eaten with the owner’s family. It’s for the traveler who wants a more Senegalese experience, which is ironic considering each bungalow has flush toilets, showers, and A/C.

Toubacouta, being so touristy, also is a hub for local artists. I saw some really cool art there, and there were lots of artisans and such yelling at me to buy things. If anyone comes to visit me (hint hint), we will definitely head down to Toubacouta because it’s gorgeous and a lot of fun.

You’re probably wondering about the 25-mile bike ride. I was wondering about it before we left, too. Since installing, I had ridden my bike twice, and both were short trips I took to explore the area. I was nervous the other volunteer was going to have to drag my lifeless body back to Sokone at the end of the day. It actually was okay. My legs burned on the way down and on the way back up, but it wasn’t bad at all. I was kind of sore when I got back, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

The road from Sokone to Toubacouta is in really good condition, unlike the road from Kaolack (which, by the way, is pronounced cow-lack) to Sokone (so-cone, like snow cone but without the n in “snow”), which is horrible and jarring and frightening. The surrounding wilderness is also SO African and SO beautiful. Of course, I did not bring my camera, but I know I will bike down there again.

Nothing much else has been going on. I have been going through books like there’s no tomorrow. I have also mastered the art of making coffee every morning, which is NOT easy in this country. I have a tiny gas cooker thing, and the Senegalese LOVE their instant coffee. I, unfortunately, don’t have a French press (family, take note….Christmas is around the corner) or a fridge, so I buy crappy Nescafe and crappy powdered milk from the boutique around the corner. The coffee tastes coffee-esque, just enough to make me happy every morning. My host-mom sells bean sandwiches (the breakfast of choice in Senegal: beans, onions, and spices on half a baguette; it’s ridiculously good) outside our compound, so every morning I buy one of those and take it back to room. I have my sandwich and coffee and listen to music. It has become a splendid routine of normalcy in my otherwise abnormal day.

Also, a random thought: there are several creepy crawlies in my room 24/7. It’s good to have a roommate again, I guess, but I prefer Allyson to the variety of spiders, crickets, lizards, and the one toad I am currently bunking with. I have Yotox, which is the insect killer of choice in this country. There are other brands, but everyone calls every kind of bug killer Yotox, much like Kleenex. Luckily, my roomies just kind of chill out on the wall, and I have my mosquito net, which keeps out everything, but it’s funny how much I have changed these three months. I used to freak if there was a bug in my apartment, but now I feel like it’s useless to attempt to fight these critters, so I have given up. I have to pick my battles, and I have chosen the Jamie vs. Senegalese-Children-Calling-Me-Toubab EPIC WAR of 2010-2012.

Two weeks left. I can do this. Luckily, the end of the Five Week Challenge marks the beginning of a hectic, far-from-boring six weeks. I am headed to Kaolack for Thanksgiving (the 25th), where I will stay at the regional house for a couple days. The 27th-29th is the semi-annual UAg conference in Thies for just my sector. The 3rd-4th of December is the all-volunteer conference (also in Thies), and two days after that is IST. After that is Christmas/New Year’s, which I will spend in another part of the country. I don’t know where yet though. I will return to Sokone at the beginning of January and will begin work. Scary thought.

Site Announcements

So I am back in Thies for like 2 days. Tomorrow, I go back to Mboro for Korite, which is the big party ending Ramadan. I bought fabric, and my host brother, who’s a tailor, made me an outfit. I will post a picture of myself looking AWESOME later.

So, I found out my site today!! The process was epic. Basically, in the back of the complex, there’s a basketball court. Painted on the court is a massive map of Senegal. Site announcements are done here. They blindfolded all of us, which was frightening. It was POURING rain, which made it even more epic. So we’re all standing around the perimeter of the basketball court. I am holding hands with the other Mboro people because I feel a little unbalanced. Nathan, who is the UAg trainer, grabs us one by one and takes us to our site. I am the last UAg to be placed, so I felt like I was standing by myself for a long time (it was probably 5 minutes though). Nathan grabs my arm and walks me around “Senegal”. I am bumping into people a bunch, and he leads me to this one area and stops me. He goes, “This is where you’re gonna be.”

A few minutes later, I hear this, “READY? 1! 2! 3! TAKE OFF YOUR BLINDFOLDS!” I take off my blindfold, look down, and find out my site.

I am in: SOKONE, which is in the FATICK region of Senegal. There are 14 regions in Senegal, and I am in Fatick (fuh-teek). It’s to the left of the Kaolack region and south of the Thies region. It’s super lush. Apparently there are mangrove and baobob trees everywhere. It’s a big tourist place, and there’s a lot of diversity there. Senegal is a Muslim country, but apparently Fatick has a lot of Catholics. Sokone has about 15,000 people. There are currently one SED and two AgFo volunteers there. I will be the only UAg. There is one other person from my stage going to Sokone. His name is Joey, and he’s super cool, which is exciting. I am just glad that I’m not all the way up by Mauritania, which apparently is a 2-day drive from Dakar. I am close to Dakar and Thies, and I am near a lot of people I have gotten super close with. What scares me though is that 60% of Sokone speaks Sereer and not Wolof. Only two people from my stage are learning Sereer, and I am near them in Fatick, but I am a little nervous. I am also confused why I am learning Wolof if only 20% of my town speaks it. I will figure it out though. I will adjust. That is what the PC is about. It’s why they picked me…my ability to adapt to my surroundings (I hope).

I will update again tomorrow. Tonight, I am going into Thies for a drink (or five) to celebrate site announcements.

[insert creative title here]

No fun family stories left. I have been at the training center in Thies since Sunday evening, and I have been going to tech classes (for ag) and seminars and getting shots.

Today Chris, the country director, visited us and lectured about the role of PCVs here in Senegal. It was really interesting. I think he has done a lot for PC/Senegal, and it sucks that country directors can only have their job for five years (it’s the rule).

The last few days I have done a lot of ag stuff. Today was crazy. We went into THE RED ZONE and walked around a landfill to collect containers to grow stuff in. A big part of urban ag is creatively growing plants in places you can’t normally (i.e. cities). Tire gardening is really popular (growing spices, flowers, etc. in old, used tired), as well as table-top beds that can sit on rooftops. We walked around and brought stuff back. We ended up planting stuff in the CRAZIEST places. We found an old cheetah print backpack (pink) and filled it with soil and manure and hung it from the basketball hoop (made me think of you, Mary B). We lined it with plastic and are gonna grow mint in it. We also used old candy containers, a hat, an old shoe, a kettle, and random plastic buckets. It was super innovative, and it made me think outside the box. Got me excited about urban ag.

Speaking of urban ag, I heard some gossip about site placement! There are 3 people speaking Pulaar and 7 people learning Wolof in Urban Ag. The PC knows which sites we are going to, but they don’t know which people are going where. I heard the different places the Wolof speakers are going, so I have kind of narrowed down (a little) where I will serve for two years. Two people are going to the Louga region (north of Thies but south of Saint-Louis). You guys should probably pull up a map of Senegal. It’ll help. One person is going to Dakar, which is CRAZY because Dakar is huge. One person is staying here in Thies (which I kind of want to do because the other urban ag volunteer here is super cool…plus the training center is here, and I like Thies). One person is going North to Saint-Louis, which is supposed to be gorgeous. I don’t know the others.

I have actually met a lot of current volunteers here in Senegal. They come through a lot to help with training, so I have met urban ag vols from all over the country. They are all from the stage from a year ago exactly, which means that, hopefully, this time next year I can return to the training center and teach the newbies what’s what. There hasn’t been one current volunteer I have not liked, which is good because I will be working with them for the next year of my life. Our paths will cross frequently (I hope).

This evening, a group of us went into town to the Bon Marche, which is the huge Western grocery store here. They have a lot of imported stuff from France. Most of it is crazy expensive (crazy expensive = over $5 in Senegal). I bought a huge bottle of shampoo for 500 CFA (less than $1) and a container for my bar soap, which was like 30 cents USD. We then went to a restaurant, where I had another beer. I want to try a lot of local beers. I tried La Gazelle last time, so this time I tried Castel, which was cheap and pretty good. We took a cab home, which was kinda scary, but I think I am gonna have to get used to the public transportation here.

I think I have already become less afraid. The first time we walked around Thies, I was super freaked out. Today, I felt a lot more comfortable. I am getting used to Senegal. It’s obviously COMPLETELY different from the U.S., and it has been an adjustment, but I know I can adjust properly and fully.

OH YEAH. Also, last night we played volleyball. I kicked ASS. I busted out my FL beach volleyball skills. Twas fun.

Tonight, we are playing MAFIA in the Disco Hut. EXCITED!