Posts Tagged ‘ Lindsey is a dork ’

Obligatory Peace Corps Blog Post OR The Shout Out Post

So I am 15 months into my Peace Corps service (meaning I have 11 months remaining), and I am finally fulfilling an obligation by writing an informational “What to Bring Before Shipping Off” blog post. This blog has a decent amount of loyal followers, but I also have a lot of randoms wandering in from the cyber streets to check out what this blog is all about. A lot of these cyber streetwalkers (not to be mistaken with cyber hookers [shout out to White!]) may or may not be doing Peace Corps in the near future. If they are, then this is the post for them.

Of course, every Peace Corps experience is different. I am currently serving in Sub-Saharan West Africa (shout out to Sca-rah and her people!), but PC is all over the world. Volunteers in Mongolia will most likely need a parka because it’s FREEZING there. I wear flip-flops and shorts most days, which I pair with a sweat rag and an overall hatred of the sun.

Yes, every Peace Corps service is different, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few items that I feel are necessary regardless of where you go. Usually my blog updates are random stories about nothing, so hopefully, with this post, you take away some things. As a whole, I’m a better storyteller than knowledge-dropper, so bare with me.

1. Water bottle: I have a love/hate relationship with my Nalgene bottle. I go weeks without touching it, and then all of a sudden I find it in my room and drink from it every single day. Because of this, I am adding it to the list. I brought two initially but lost one during training. Whoops. These bad boys are indestructible though. It also holds a lot of liquid.

2. Sunglasses: Be sure they have UV protection. Even if you’re going to Eastern Europe, sunglasses are still good to have. I sport reflective aviators because I like to feel cool.

3. iPod: More specifically, an iPod Touch. I initially brought a Nano to Senegal, which I cherished the first eight months of my service, but in April, my mama decided to graciously send me an iPod Touch. I have never looked back. The thing has Wi-Fi! I use it every single day. I downloaded a flashcard app that helps me with my Wolof. It has Skype so, when I have Internet access, I can chat with people back home. I can watch movies and TV shows on it. It also has an awesome camera that can shoot videos. This little device has completely changed my Peace Corps service. Of course, I am very careful with it. I have a case to protect it from the desert sands.

4. Speakers: I brought speakers on a whim, thinking I wasn’t going to use them. I was SO wrong. I use them every single day, and I love them. Of course, I have an unhealthy obsession with music, but speakers are still good to have. I actually have a shower radio (shout out to Lee Anne!), so it’s waterproof, which is brilliant. I listen to it while I take my bucket bath, while I make breakfast in the morning, and while I write blog posts.

5. Ziploc bags: You can find a surprising number of things in Senegal, but Ziploc bags don’t exist here. I love having them.

6. Batteries: For a number of things really. I use them for my flashlight, my speakers, and my Game Boy (shout out to 12-year-old Jamie!). Before you leave for staging, buy them in bulk at Costco. I still haven’t run out.

7. Drink mixes: I live in the Sine-Saloume Delta, so the water here is salty and nasty. I have mostly gotten used to it, but sometimes I just need to cover the taste. This is when drink mixes come in handy. My family throws some in every package they send me. I am currently obsessed with pink lemonade (shout out to Crystal Light!). Gatorade packets are actually the best because they have electrolytes in them, and dehydration is not fun here (imagine me lying on the floor of my bathroom vomiting every hour). Drink packets are also good at covering the taste of bleach. When I first got to Senegal, I added 2-3 drops of bleach to my water to kill parasites. I quickly gave that up because it was annoying, but that’s just me. I’m an idiot.

8. Laptop: I don’t care which country you’re going to, but a computer is a necessity. I recommend those little Netbooks because they are tiny (shout out to Lindsey!) and transportable. I have a clunky Sony laptop that’s almost four years old. I like it just fine, but when I travel I take my iPod Touch with me. Best of both worlds (shout out to Megoosh by way of Hannah Montana!).

9. Flashlight: Or even better, a headlamp. Most of the volunteers in Senegal live in small villages without electricity. Because my sector is Urban Agriculture, I live in a pretty big town. I have electricity, but the power frequently goes out (especially in the rainy season). I’m grateful for candles, but more specifically, my flashlight.

10. Army blanket: Another item I brought on a whim and am super grateful for. It gets shockingly cold in this country…at night….in the cold season….sometimes. No but really, from December to February, I wear sweatpants and a long sleeved shirt to bed. This is when the blanket comes in handy. My dad gave it to me a few years back. You can buy them at any army surplus store, and they are miracle blankets.

So there you have it. Everything on that list should be in your suitcase before you ship off for Peace Corps service. Feel free to tweak certain items, or you can just completely ignore the list and bring whatever the hell you want. These items have been lifesavers for me, and a lot of the things on the list I got later in my service. Having them since Day 1 would have been nice.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t include any medical supplies (i.e. vitamins), don’t fret. Peace Corps provides you with a med kit when you arrive. It has LITERALLY everything you need.

My dear readers, I hope you found this post helpful. I’m done. Moving on. Knowledge dropped.

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.

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.

Take Offs and Landings

Emotionally, life in Senegal is much like life in America. It has its’ ups and downs. As humans, this unpredictable bipolarity is normal and expected. Unfortunately, here in Africa, where us Americans are slightly out of our element, this emotional roller coaster has higher peaks and deeper valleys.

Let’s take me, for example (it is MY blog, after all). I had a wonderful day yesterday. I walked around town greeting people with a genuine smile on my face. I finally, after weeks of pleading in broken Wolof with various persons around town, acquired garden space. I have a small garden outside my house, but I needed more space to garden in. Mostly it was for practice, but I also wanted it to become a demonstration garden to show off the agricultural techniques drilled into my head by the Peace Corps.

To sum up, yesterday was good. My Wolof wasn’t too bad. I understood the people; the people understood me. The food my family gave me was edible and considerably tasty. I was in a good place.

Cut to this morning, where the camera (if this were a movie) shows me in my room sobbing.

Let’s rewind a little bit.

I had woken up in the middle of the night with a mild sore throat. I drank some water, put on more Chapstick (you know, mine and Lindsey’s middle-of-the-night-can’t-see-without-our-glasses routine), and went back to sleep. I woke up this morning though, and my throat was on FIRE. This sore throat was not messing around. It had grown in strength during the night, much like a hurricane. To make matters worse, when I clawed my way out of my mosquito net and stood up, I almost fell over. I was lightheaded and dizzy. I drank more water, popped some meds, and took my temperature. After converting the number from Celsius to Fahrenheit on my cell phone (why the PC, an American program, gave us a thermometer in Celsius is beyond me), I discovered I had a mild fever.

Regrettably, this was my third bout in the ring with illness in the last month. Africa, my friends, has finally caught up with me.

Luckily, I still had an appetite (unlike a month ago where I had no appetite and was vomiting on my living room floor at 3 AM). Thus, I stumbled outside wearing God knows what and headed towards the nearest boutique (store) to buy bread and eggs. On my way, I ran into my host mother and sister. They proceeded to yell at me for sleeping so late (it was 10 AM) and also laughed when I told them I was sick. I’m pretty sure they didn’t believe I was actually ill.

I kept walking in a huff. I bought my bread and eggs, and when I walked out of the boutique I almost ran into two teenage girls. They take one look at me and start repeatedly calling me toubab and laughing. This scenario pisses me off when children do it, but I take it with a grain of salt because, come on, they’re children. However, if you’re above the age of 14 and calling me THAT word, it is officially rude. These bitches knew better. I’d had enough, so I yelled at them and called them out for calling me THAT word. They looked at each other and burst out laughing again. They repeated what I said in singsong voices and added another “toubab” to their rapidly growing list of verbal punches to my stomach. I walked off, attempting to ignore them. Unfortunately, I stumbled on a rock and almost dropped the eggs. The girls laughed even harder.

I got back to my room, put my recent purchases on a table, took a deep breath, and burst into tears.

I am not ashamed to be sharing this on a public forum. Life here is hard, and I think I’m lucky to have made it almost six months without crying. I believe this moment of catharsis was bound to happen sooner or later. It was a mix between my sickness, my family being rude to me, and those girls picking on me. I was also very frustrated because I had been looking forward to starting my work on the garden today after weeks of stress looking for the space.

The cry lasted less than a minute. I then washed my face, blasted Florence + the Machine (percussion-heavy band with British female lead singer), and started preparing breakfast. The rest of the day was spent in my room. I watched 127 Hours, which is an Oscar-nominated film about a guy who gets his arm stuck under a rock and must cut it off in order to free himself. Sadly, as I watched, I found myself relating to this man. Of course, looking back, these thoughts were a bit dramatic. I’m sure the fault lies in my slight delirium brought on by lack of sleep and head-to-toe bodily illness.

Now, with my physical and mental health slowly getting back to normal, I have found the perspective I lacked earlier today. Sometimes you just need those days where you don’t leave your room, down a couple pills and bottles of water, and watch American movies and television shows.

It’s days like these where the title of my blog is highly applicable to my life. Yes, it’s the name of a Rilo Kiley album (alternative pop band). Yes, it references an airplane, and this is kind of a travel blog. But also, it’s a metaphor for my life in Senegal, which has its’ take offs (ups) and landings (downs). Tomorrow, if I’m up to it, I am going to start work on my garden, and hopefully that metaphorical airplane will start moving skyward again.

IST and the Holidays

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

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

Things I did during IST:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Survival Wolof, Potty Training, & Hope for the Future

So I got to talk to my family last night. They gave us little Nokia phones (that all look identical, which isn’t confusing AT ALL with 64 of us). My number is on my FB page, if you’re interested. It’s free to receive anything, so if you’re willing to pay, text me! You can also call from Skype, and it’s free for me and only, like, 27 cents a minute for you guys. Also, Gmail has this awesome thing where, if you have a Gmail account, you can G-Chat me here in Senegal for free. We can have whole conversations if you are on a computer and I have my phone, and it’ll be free for both of us. So…get on that.

The convo with the fam went well. The call only dropped once. I thought I was gonna be sad hearing their voices, but I have been so busy/distracted these last 5 days that I have barely had time to think (no offense, guys…love ya).

Last night I slept less well. I went to bed at midnight, and my phone is my alarm clock, but it died last night, so I woke up at who knows when, checked my phone, and nothing happened. I sat up (beads of sweat flying) and freaked out b/c I thought I had missed my 8:15 seminar (haha…I actually was worried about missing breakfast). I jump down from the bunkbed, run to the foyer (aka hangout place), plugged it in, AND IT WAS 6:30 AM! I about died. I was pissed, so I grabbed HP7 and read it until breakfast, which was at 7:30ish. Funnily enough, people were awake! Crazies. Two girls were doing zumba in the Disco Hut (<~~ best sentence I have EVER said), while others were on their laptops. Some people just can’t sleep here, so they wake up every time they do the call for the morning prayer (Senegal is 90% Muslim, so they pray 5 times a day), which is at like 5 AM.

Today I had seminars all morning. The first one was about the ecosystems in Senegal, and I thought it was fascinating. Everyone was falling asleep. Cut to me, right up front, taking vigorous notes. I blame my fascination on Hippie Allyson and her Hippie Ideals. Ya live with that girl for three years, and your interests get greener and greener and greener (and Whiter and Whiter and Whiter). FYI: Not being racist. Her nickname is White.

The schedule is as follows: seminar from 8:15-1015 AM, then a 30 minute coffee/tea time (hey Lindsey!), then two more hours of seminar. Lunch is always at 12:45, and dinner is always at 7:45. Ramadan has officially begun, so the Senegalese are fasting from sunrise to sunset. I am kind of nervous about moving in with my host family now b/c I have to be careful about eating in front of them. They are still gonna feed me, which is good, but it’s gonna be awkward, and I have to do it alone (to be polite).

At noon today was SURVIVAL WOLOF. Wolof is the local language in Senegal (although the national language is French). It was 40 minutes long, and there were only five of us in my group, and I still almost cried. The language is difficult. We learned “Asalamalekum” (sp?) which means “Peace be with you”. EVERYONE says this to you. I’m glad I finally know what it means. I forget what the response is…I am already repressing it.

After lunch we had a Cultural Fair, which had 6 stations pertaining to different things. One was all about religion, and about how to act when people are praying. One was about greetings/dress. The clothes are super cool, and we are expected to buy some local clothes. I am gonna look GOOD! Men basically wear linen pants with a drawstring waist and a long gown that goes to mid-calf. I am gonna be comfortable as f. One station was about food. The national dish is fish and rice. One station was about eating in the communal bowl. NEVER USE YOUR LEFT HAND TO EAT. You wipe yourself with your left hand, so it’s dirty. Actually, you can’t do anything with your left hand (lefties can write, but that’s it). If you use your left hand, they think you are possessed by the Devil (I can’t make this shit up). One station was about local Senegalese items unfamiliar to Americans.

The last, and finest, station was about the toilet. Yes, they had to teach us. I’m sure you guys have been wondering. Current volunteers taught us all about it. They said everyone starts off using toilet paper, then gives up and does like the locals do. Basically, to go to the bathroom, you squat (a lot of people take their pants off completely to avoid messes) and do your thing. In the bathrooms here they have a tap with water and a little cup with a handle. They basically say, to clean yourself, you pour the water down the back of you until you think it’s clean. You use your left hand to make sure everything is gone, and you’re done. They told us we will have to buy a kettle to do this in our homestays (where we will have our own bathroom). Apparently toilet paper is really expensive here, and they sewage doesn’t support all the paper, so you probably have to put the used TP in a baggie and throw it away elsewhere. The current volunteers said the water method is cleaner. They said you don’t use a dry cloth to wash your body, so why do that to wipe your ass? Not clean. I have yet to “do as the Romans do”. I will keep you posted though.

It’s weird how easy it is to get used to things here. I am always moist from sweat, and I am fine with it. I have accepted it. I always have at least three flies on my body at all times, and I am used to it. I am COVERED in potentially-malaria-filled mosquito bites, so I am used to being itchy. I know it’s only been five days, and I have no right to say I know what I’m talking about, but I seriously hope it stays this way. I got used to overall dirtiness pretty fast, and I hope it sticks (just like how my clothes stick to me all the time). UPDATE: I am trying to quit biting my nails. It was gross when I was clean. Here, it’s DEE-SCUST-ING. All sorts of D.

Okay, so I feel like I have a million things to say, yet I can’t think of anything else. The current volunteers are answering a lot of my random questions, and it makes me feel better that, after a year, they are still normal. It gives me hope.

PS: Asalamalekum!

Pig Shots and Increased Levels of Dorkiness/Fluff

This morning I woke up at 8:26 AM…the earliest I have woken up in a while. I went down to the glamorous (<– sarcasm) Leon County Health Department for my H1N1 shot, which was administered by a lovely woman, Fran, who kept rubbing my back. Twas awk. For some reason they were out of legitimate rooms, so I got the shot in what could have been a storage room for spare furniture. We’ll never know I guess, unless Fran is reading this. If she is, do us tell us what we were doing in there because it was unclear to me.

After that I ran some errands, including buying Allyson’s graduation gift, which is pretty good (but not as good as the grad gift she got me). I also got more passport photos. For some odd reason, the PC needs 18 2×2 photos of yours truly. Unfortunately, I wore a light gray shirt to CVS, which uses a white background, so I now have 18 photos of my floating neck/head. They’re a real trip.

Later, I took a nap, woke up for half an hour, then napped again. I love Double Nap Days (DND for short).

I had lunch with the lovely Brittany (my cousin, for those of you who don’t know/are slow), then went to Trail & Ski to look at Jesus sandals. The PC recommended I buy some sandals for daily use, so I am going to do it. It’s just strange because I have never been a sandal person. I have worn Converse or slip-ons or something forever, or I wear flip-flops. The Jesus sandal is this whole other branch of the footwear family tree that has eluded me. Luckily, the chick at Trail & Ski was an expert. Evidently there has been an epic debate amongst hippies for years about whether Chacos or Tevas are better. Both sell hiking/outdoor sandals (Jesus-style). I tried on both, and they seemed similar, except for the Tevas were $45 cheaper. Both kind of look like strappy women’s heels from the junior prom circa 1993. I still am on the fence. I went home and found myself on camping message boards where all sorts of people discuss this topic. If you have knowledge, readers, then drop it ASAP because I am buying a pair tomorrow.

I went with my Mom to the eye doctor to look for prescription sunglasses (please see second half of post title). I have never been one to wear prescription sunglasses for this reason: I am 22 and not 58. I am not knocking them, so don’t be offended. I wouldn’t have bought some if I truly hated them. I just have always thought they were weird. I wear contacts with regular sunglasses, or I wear glasses and deal with the sun. I ended up getting a pair of tortoise-shell Ray-Ban knock offs. I love them b/c the inside is lime green. I will rock the hell out of them. I mean, the locals in Senegal are gonna come a-runnin’ when I bust out of the bus from Dakar*. “A rock star!” they’ll say (in Wolof).

Tonight, the plan is to embarrass myself singing karaoke (when I say “possibly” I mean “most definitely”).

PS: For those of you turned off by the fact that this blog is mostly humorous and less educational, then you are gonna be disappointed. Unlike my brainier sister Lindsey, my blog will focus more on my experiences and my thoughts on those experiences and less on history. I like that sort of stuff, but when I look back in 10 years, I want to read this and remember the times when I was scared shitless or dealing with hilarious situations abroad. It’s the stuff I live for. It’s, to me, what traveling is all about. Learning, of course, is a must, but when I look back on all the places I’ve visited, I remember laughing at the crazy stuff I did. Getting lost and spending two hours finding my way again is more fun/memorable than a castle. This blog WILL have stuff like that though. It’s just that right now I’m in Tallahassee, Florida, which is less exciting than West Africa, so I am filling my blog with fluff.

PPS: Fluff fluff fluffity fluff.

*Dakar is the capital of Senegal. I am flying from DC to Dakar on Tuesday the 10th, then taking a 2-hour bus ride east to Thiès (pronounced “chess”), which is where I will train for nine weeks.