Posts Tagged ‘ Mama Whitehead ’

My 2nd 4th in Senegal

Last week I made the trek down to the southeast corner of Senegal for the annual Peace Corps 4th of July bash. I spent a few days in the city of Kedougou, which is a regional capital a little north of the Guinean border. I went last year, but of course I had to go again. It was FAR though.

Sokone to Kaolack: 1 hour
Kaolack to Tambacounda: 4 hours
Tamba to Kedougou: 4 hours

We left at 6:00 am on the morning of the 2nd, and we arrived at around 2:30 pm. It was an exhausting trip overall, but it was good to see people that I don’t see that often. The 4th was spent eating pig (which was roasted in the ground!), drinking beer, and dancing. Typical American stuff.

As fun as Independence Day was, the 5th of July was actually more fun for me. We decided to be adventurous and go tubing down the Gambia River.

Step One: find tubes. We ended up going to this junk yard filled with old car parts and asking the men working there to sell us tire tubes. New tubes were around $12, which was pricey for us, so we decided to buy used tubes for $3. Of course, the men had to patch each tube up, and there were eight of us, so a lot of the day was spent loitering around a junkyard, basically.

Step Two: walk to the river. A PCV stationed in Kedougou gave me specific instructions on how to get to the river from the regional house. After two minutes, we were completely lost. We ended up walking into a lot of people’s compounds, which was weird because none of us speak Pulaar, and we were carrying huge inner tubes. People were polite though and helped us out. We DID end up in a thorn forest though, and I was wearing shower sandals (my footwear of choice) I got a few scratches, but these were nothing compared to what was to come.

Step Three: get in the river. So there were eight of us, and I’m pretty sure only one person didn’t eat shit trying to get into that river. I’m sure if we had gone the right way, we could have easily slid into the river, but we ended up in this jungle of thorny tree species with lots and lots of mud. We get in the river and try to get out of this jungle. These trees were highly deceptive though. We’d come up on a small twig sticking out of the water, but that twig would end being the thorniest bitch yet. It’s like these trees were icebergs. Most of it is under the water.

Of course we got a little separated, and if you were in the back, you’d hear screams up ahead, and you knew there’d be trouble. The people up front would scream “AVOID THAT TWO FOOT TWIG! IT JUST SCRATCHED UP MY ENTIRE LEG!”

We did well though, and I had a lot of fun. I didn’t see any animals (I was told hippos hung out in the river a lot), and thank G I didn’t see any snakes. Woulda freaked.

So to get back to lovely Kaolack, we decided to change it up and take the night bus, which leaves at 6:00 pm. It’s supposed to take around eight hours, but it ended up being 11 because we, SOMEHOW, had to stop every 20 minutes for no reason. We also got pulled over by the local police and discovered that our driver didn’t have a driver’s license. Everything a mother wants to hear, right? A random man driving a bus filled with 50 people through the jungle in the middle of the night. So we sat on the side of the road at 4:00 am and chit-chatted. Finally, we got back on the road. I’m assuming the driver either bribed the cops, or they just let him go. Either way, the system is sketchy.

Anyways, so I’m running on three hours of sleep, which is strange because normally I sleep about 12 hours a day. I’m exhausted, and I also have cuts all over my body, some of which are infected. Just a heads up: if you want to go to the jungle, avoid going during the rainy season. Things get infected SO FAST.

I’m gonna wrap up this post by saying this: in 10 weeks, I’ll be in America!

The Last Leg

I’ve reached the point in my Peace Corps service where I’ve stopped counting the number of months I’ve been in country and started counting down the number of months I have left. I have been here for over 21 months, and I have less than four months left. It’s pretty surreal.

A few updates on my life:

-For a number of reasons, the girls camp I am helping run has been moved from mid-June to early September. As a result, I am leaving a week later than expected. Yes, I know a week isn’t a very long time, but my mind has been staring at September 15th on the calendar for months, and now the date is pushed back. It’s tough. Luckily the camp and mangrove reforestation will be the last things I do, so I’ll end on a high note. My summer has cleared up though, and I don’t really have anything to do until August. I don’t want to start any new projects now because A) I probably won’t be done by September, and B) I’m partly checked out.

-My host family has grown. We now have a rambunctious baby goat that runs around. For a while I hated it because it was annoying and didn’t follow the Animal Code (i.e. wait until AFTER lunch to go foraging for scraps). Plus, it was always dirty and rubbing up against me. Regrettably, I judged it too early and rather harshly. I recently discovered that the goat’s mother (and two siblings) died in childbirth, meaning the goat is an orphan. Now when I see my host brother feed it milk from a baby bottle, it’s less “Why does that goat get such special treatment? Stupid animal” and more “So awful that its mother is gone. Look how cute it is!”

-I finished book #68 this week (What is the What by Dave Eggers, really sad book about a Sudanese refugee). Sadly, I probably won’t complete the 100 Book Challenge. I am shooting for the 80 Book Challenge now. Kids, this is what failure looks like.

-I’m really into podcasts now. Favorites include This American Life and Savage Love.

-Mango season is upon us, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s good because mangoes are delicious, and I love them. Also, and Mama Whitehead will like this, they get me flossing every day. Mangoes are bitches in that they get stuck in your teeth.

Mango season is bad because the war starts.

For those of you haven’t visited, my house is situated in the corner of my host family’s compound. There is a two-foot space between my house and the wall that separates my compound from the neighbor’s. The neighbors have a huge mango tree in their yard, and some of the branches extend over my house. When the wind blows, the branches sway against my zinc roof and make noise. This is fine. Unfortunately, during mango season, the neighbor kids climb onto my roof to grab mangoes. They also stand on the wall right outside my window with a long stick trying to get the delicious fruit. This is fine for them, but to me it’s the most annoying thing in the entire world. They start really early, and they do it on and off pretty much all day. It’s insanely loud when the branches hit the roof, and it’s even louder when the mangoes fall.

They also love to look into my window. It’s definitely a new thing. Clearly these kids aren’t the smartest because I’ve lived in Sokone for over a year and a half and they’re just now realizing they can peek in my window. It’s like an exhibit or something. Step right up, folks, and see the toubab in his natural habitat. They watch me reading. They watch me sleeping. They watch me watching Glee. They watch me changing clothes. It’s creepy as shit. I tried closing the window, but then my room got unbearably hot (it’s usually, ya know, FREEZING in there), so I opened it again.

-The alley between my house and the outer wall has seen a lot of action recently. A cat just had kittens there. The kittens are pretty cute. They eat the scraps I throw out the window. Which, come to think of it, I should stop doing if I want the cat births to stop.

-I recently had a discussion with my host sister Sophie about my leaving. I told her I had about three months left with them. She was sad. When I told her I would definitely cry when I left, her face changed. She said that men don’t cry. I told her too bad. I’m a man (ha!), and when I leave I will cry. I don’t think she accepted it. We’ll see what happens.

To sum up, don’t think I hate it here. I actually LOVE it here, but I’m done. I’m ready to move on to the next chapter of my life (Chapter 5: Where He Lives With His Parents).

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 (shout out to Mama Whitehead!), 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. Nalgene 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. I don’t know about the local people in other Peace Corps countries, but the Senegalese are really good at breaking stuff. Thus, a Nalgene bottle is perfect because it won’t break. It also holds a lot of liquid.

2. Sunglasses: Be sure they have UV protection, especially if you’re going to Africa. 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, Mama Whitehead 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 (shout out to Colonel Michael J. Whitehead!) 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 badass 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.