Posts Tagged ‘ Sokone ’

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, 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 TV. 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, I 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).

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.

https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=685-198

The link is above. Now get spendin’!

…And He Was Never Heard From Again

The time has come, Abdoulaye said, to vote in the election.
I’m stuck at site and in a plight, but it’s for my own protection.
Who will win? The citizens ask, for it truly is a tossup.
Is it rigged? Is it not? I’ve heard a lot of gossip.

Welcome, my dear readers, to the beginning of the end. I’m losing my damn mind.

As of last Sunday, all Senegal volunteers are on standfast, meaning we can’t travel. Anywhere. This is due to the fact that Senegal’s presidential election is tomorrow. Consequently, this once restful country has decided to stop resting. The Senegalese youth have woken up, and they are CRANKY. I know I wrote about the election a few posts ago, but in case this is your first visit to my lovely blog, I’ll give you a recap.

Current president: Abdoulaye Wade
Age: 85
Face: scary looking

This is the end of Wade’s (pronounced “wad”, like a wad of gum) second term. The Senegalese constitution states that a president can only hold the position for two terms. Wade is running for a third. He found a loophole. The constitution was changed AFTER Wade became president, so he believes that he can run for a third term.

As I mentioned, Wade is old. Like MAD old. He uses old slang and his grand bubus are SO last century. To quote Amy MacDonald, he doesn’t know a thing about the youth of today.

Senegal is changing. It’s becoming more western. Skinny jeans and sequins are traditional garb now for ladies. For the fellas, Yankee caps and baggy jeans.

Wade is outdated. If you’re over the age of 40, you’re going to vote for him. Of course, I’m generalizing here, but you get my point.

So like I said, the youth have woken up, and they’re not happy. I get texts from my SSC (Safety and Security Coordinator, for those of you who need their hand held just to get through this post) saying there are riots in all the regional capitals. Tear gas canisters are getting thrown around like Mardi Gras beads. Tires are on fire. People getting killed. It’s a madhouse over here.

Thus, I am trapped at site. I have been here for nine days, and I’m going a little stir crazy. I have spent longer amounts of time in Sokone before, but I hate not knowing when I’ll be able to leave. I also hate that I don’t even HAVE the option to leave if I wanted to. It displeases me.

Things I’ve done since being here: rearranged my room, organized my med kit, changed all the names in my cell phone to characters from Harry Potter books, emptied out my garbage can (something I rarely do….go ahead, JUDGE ME), defragmented my computer, watched an entire season of Mad Men, bug bombed my house, cleaned my bathroom, got drunk at a bar and had to climb the wall of my family’s compound at midnight, made an Excel spreadsheet detailing the entire schedule for the girls camp I’m running in June, and wrote this blog post.

This stretch at site by the numbers:

Cups of tea drank: 5
Hangovers: 1 (Right. Effing. Now.)
Number of fellow volunteers I’ve called out of boredom: 14
Hard-boiled eggs consumed: 14
Text messages received from other bored PCVs: 72
Books read: 4
Height, in feet, of the wall I drunkenly fell off last night: 6
Movies watched: 1
Naps taken: 6
Number of freak-outs at children calling me toubab: 3
Songs listened to: hundreds, I’m sure
Number of times I’ve considered exercising to prevent boredom: 0
Number of times my host family, noticing my crazy eyes, has asked me if anything is wrong: 3

If you don’t hear from me in the next week, start wandering around baggage claim at Orlando International Airport. You might spot me.

The Other 2012 Election

It has been two months since my last update. In a way, I’ve been too busy to post, what with being in America and all. I’m still a Peace Corps volunteer though, and part of that job description includes doing mounds of nothing. So I guess I was working when I was in America.

Excuses aside, I’m back now. Coming back was a lot different than when I came back from France. Back in August, I was coming back from one foreign country and landing in another. This time, I was coming back from America. This trip was also twice as long as my France trip.

Two weeks ago, when I landed in Dakar, the cab driver was trying to talk to me in Wolof, and it took about ten seconds for me to respond to each question. I even told him, “Sorry, but I haven’t spoken Wolof in a while. It’s a little difficult.” It was like the whole America thing had been a dream.

It wasn’t a dream though. I had an amazing time back in America. I got to see friends and family. I ate delicious food (burritos and sushi!) and drink delicious alcoholic beverages. I went to the Titanic exhibition at the Brogan museum. I decorated for Christmas. I went to the Orlando Science Center. I drank lots and lots of Starbucks. I slept without a mosquito net. I saw snow (I had a six hour layover in DC, so I wandered around Georgetown in flip-flops during the first snow of the season). I rang in 2012 in downtown Orlando with college friends.

Speaking of 2012, next month is the Senegalese presidential election. The country is abuzz because Abdoulaye Wade, the current president, is rerunning for a third term, which has never been done before. Actually, a few months back Senegal made international headlines when Wade tried to change the constitution so that his son could replace him (basically, he unsuccessfully tried to make Senegal a monarchy).

Anyways, so the frontrunners for the election are Wade and international singer Youssou N’dour. N’dour became famous back in the 80s when he worked with Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel. Yeah, he’s legit.

So N’dour is pulling a Schwarzenegger. He’s never worked in politics before, but he’s trying to run for office.

For those of you who don’t know, the Sokone-area volunteers have started teaching English twice a week at the high school. We’ve been tag teaming. We started back in December, where I taught a few classes. Clearly, I was in America for a month, so I just started back up again this week. Yesterday’s class was all about the elections. We discussed the upcoming election and the issues, comparing them to American politics.

It was really interesting discussing politics, in English, with Senegalese teens. They were really knowledgeable and willing to participate in the discussion. Yesterday’s class only had five students (usually around 15 show up), and every single one of them supported a different presidential candidate. Two of them in the class were over the age of 18, so they could vote. Regrettably, neither was registered to vote. This is when I stepped in and went on a tangent, in English, about the importance of voting. They most likely didn’t catch every word, but they got the gist.

The elections are at the end of February, and riots are expected to occur. I feel like, in Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade is either loved or hated. It’s going to be crazy, that’s for sure. I’ll keep you posted.

Where I Leave for America

So as you may or may not know, I am leaving for America on Tuesday. No, my service is NOT over yet. I am merely going home for a month to decompress, see my family/friends, and celebrate Christmas. I am excited on so many levels. I’m going to get SO fat from all the food I’m going to eat, and I’m really excited about it.

But apart from the weight gain, I am looking forward to gaining something else: perspective. I’ve been away from home for almost 16 months now, and that’s a long time to go without a burrito or your family. I think America will be tremendously helpful for my mental health. The stress of living in Senegal, combined with the Mefloquine, is making me a little crazy. It’ll be good to be at home with my family and my dog.

Speaking of families, I had an interesting discussion with my Senegalese one the other night. We were discussing me going home, and they are really excited for me. They know I miss my real family and that I’m excited to go home for a few weeks. They’re also excited for themselves because they will reap the benefits of my world travels. They know I’m going to bring back presents for them.

Thus, the other night my host father summoned the whole family and shoved a piece of paper and pen in my hand. They proceeded to tell me everything they wanted from America, and they made me write it down. Some highlights include:

For Baba (my host father): a motorcycle jacket.

For Na (my host mother): a computer, two new cell phones.

For Sophia (the oldest sister): a headlamp (for cooking in the dark), kitchen utensils, clothing for the baby, a car, a moped.

Anto (the oldest brother): a jacket (for the cold season), shoes (size 44), an iPhone.

Considering the amount of winter apparel they requested, this upcoming cold season is going to be BRUTAL. I’m not sure I’ll be able to provide EVERYTHING they want, but I will try my hardest to bring them back gifts they will appreciate and use.

Having a Senegalese family has been so amazing. When I got to Senegal and discovered I’d be living with a host family, I was hesitant. I wanted to live alone and do my own thing, but now I can’t imagine not having one. They’ve helped me so much with integration, as well as with language. I love them so much.

Today, when I left my house, I teared up a little. Crazy, I know. I also shook everyone’s left hand. In Senegal, you do everything with your right hand (i.e. eat, shake hands) because the left hand is saving for wiping. For some reason though, when you leave for a long time, you shake with your left hand. It was sad to shake everyone’s left hand because it felt like I’m never coming back. Well Mansaly family, you’re not rid of me yet. I’LL BE BACK.

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.

Me and My Murse

When I lived in America, I looked a lot different. I dressed better, and my clothes were washed by machine rather than hand. My feet were clean, and my face was less greasy and blemished. I was rarely sweaty. In a nutshell, I was more attractive.

In America, I did what every other guy did: I carried my wallet in my back pocket. Here, that is not an option. Theft is not something that happens every day in Senegal, but it does happen, and of course foreigners are targets because they have money. I learned during training to carry my wallet in my front pocket because it’s less accessible. I did this for a little bit, but I started getting frustrated when I would forget this and that. In addition, coins are really important in CFA (the Senegalese currency). You end up carrying a lot of change around, which jangle and leave bulges in your pockets.

So after a few months, I did what all grandmothers do and bought a change purse. Mine was purchased at an artisan fair in Dakar. It’s green and small, and I love it. It’s very convenient.

I thought the change purse would solve my problems. I thought it would organize and streamline my pockets. I still wasn’t satisfied though. I had my wallet in one pocket, my change purse in another, and my cell phone in a third. My pants were getting out of hand.

So finally, I caved. I decided to man up and buy a MURSE. For those old folks who don’t know what a murse is (aka my Dad), it is a portmanteau for MAN PURSE. For those slow people who don’t know what a portmanteau is (aka a lot of people), look it up.

I was hesitant at first because I didn’t know what people would think of my murse (both volunteers and Senegalese nationals alike), but it has been almost a year since I rocked my first one, and I have never looked back.

My murse has changed my life. I carry all sorts of wonderful things in it. There is a list of things that are always in my murse, and today I would like to share that list with you. Let’s stop chatting and dive right in, shall we?

1. My wallet: of course my wallet is in there. I carry my wallet with me everywhere. It holds my money and my Peace Corps ID, which are both very important. There is a law in Senegal where you can’t walk around without proper identification. Basically, they can arrest you if you’re found without an ID. Foreigners should carry their passports, but Peace Corps volunteers can get by with carrying their ID card.

2. My change purse: as previously mentioned, I own a change purse. It holds all my coins, which are crucial in this country.

3. A book: the pace of this country is SLOW. I always have a book with my in case I have to wait around, which happens often. I have read my book in all sorts of places: the post office, Senelac (where I pay my electricity bill), every mode of transportation I’ve ever taken, every restaurant in Sokone, etc.

4. Sunscreen: the sun is brutal. The bottle currently in my murse is the one I brought to this country from America. I ran out of the stuff Peace Corps gave me. Thanks Publix for protecting my toubab skin.

5. Chapstick: the chapstick I carry in my murse is always SPF during the day. At night, I used medicated from the States.

6. Cell phone: my link to the outside world. Text messages are 20 CFA, which is around three cents. International texts are 100 CFA, which is around 20 cents. I can call volunteers for free, but it costs money to call Senegalese people.

7. Keys: to my room in Sokone.

8. Hand sanitizer: I was always paranoid about germs, but since I got pink eye, I am overly cautious. Annoyingly, Peace Corps does not provide hand sanitizer, so it’s always good to include a few bottles in packages (hint hint).

So there you have it. Above is the list of things I carry with me on my person at pretty much all times. When I’m done with Peace Corps and this mess is all over, I probably won’t attempt to rock the murse stateside. I don’t think the American people are ready.

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.

An Update

It has recently come to my attention that I have failed to properly update you guys about what I’ve been up to. Because I live in West Africa, it is not always easy to find electricity, let alone have access to the Internet. I try my hardest to update my blog, and I am proud of myself for keeping it up for almost a year now. I also post on my Twitter quite frequently, and I am happy I can update it using my cell phone.

When I do update my Twitter, apparently what I say is unsatisfactory. I had a Twitter in America, and the reason I like this particular social networking site is because my friends and family can see what I’m doing, even if that includes events that are less than exciting. Like I have stated in previous blog entries, my life is not as thrilling as it may seem. Most days I am bored out of my mind because I have nothing to do. I have electricity about a third of the time, and usually it’s on when I am asleep. Thus, I sit around and read, sit around and talk to my host family, or wander aimlessly around town. I also like to nap during the day.

When people find out I am in the Peace Corps, they have these grandiose visions of me saving the world. I am not doing that at all. Yes, I occasionally teach gardening if people are willing to listen to my broken Wolof. Unfortunately, Senegalese people are not that patient. There is a large NGO presence in Senegal (especially where I live), so when the locals see a white person, they automatically assume I am here to give money. Thus, it is really difficult to successfully do the work I came here to do. In addition, the Wolof culture is very abrasive. There is no beating around the bush, so when a Senegalese person is mad and/or no longer wants to speak with you, they tell you.

Of course, I am generalizing here. I have met a lot of amazing Senegalese people in this country. A lot of them are great at assisting me in my work. Without them, I am sure I would get absolutely nothing done. Most of the time, if I am trying to explain something in Wolof, people either are not listening or they do not understand. This is when those aforementioned Senegalese people step in and say the exact same thing I said. Of course, because they are Senegalese, people listen to them. Because of this, work is really discouraging.

Apart from these difficulties, I am trying my hardest to do what I can. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, most of the projects I am working on will not be sustainable. I quickly learned that grassroots development in West Africa is really hard if you are not willing to dish out wads of cash in order to appease the locals. Thus, in order to keep myself sane, I have focused on the second and third goals of the Peace Corps, which are listed below.

1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

On a day-to-day basis, the second and third goals are so much more gratifying. I studied Anthropology in college, so I joined the Peace Corps to travel and meet new, interesting people from a different culture. I have no background in development, and I am not particularly good at it. I am here to teach gardening, but I am not too good at that either. I found that my time is better spent sitting and chatting with people. I tell them about America and about the things that I know. In exchange, I learn more about Senegal and its’ people every day. I am here as an ambassador to the United States, so I work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I get really frustrated and upset when people assume I am sitting around doing nothing just because I don’t have a beautiful garden or because you have not seen photos of successful projects.

I’m sorry I did not do a blog post about the hour-long conversation I had with my host brother about tattoos the other day (he had a lot of questions). I’m sorry I do not update my Twitter every time I sit under a tree and drink tea with a stranger (I do this a lot). I’m sorry if I did not discuss, the last time we talked, the frequent social obligations I must uphold every week so that people in my town don’t think I am a rude American. All of these things are part of my job, and they are really important to me. They make me feel like a good volunteer. Unfortunately, few seem to agree.

My Peace Corps service is mine and no one else’s. I can do with it what I wish. If I want to garden less and chitchat more, that’s my prerogative. To me, making friends and developing relationships is more rewarding than hosting permagarden trainings.

Of course, that does not mean I do not intend to try my hardest to make a difference in other ways. I am really proud of myself and the other volunteers who worked at the girls’ leadership camp last month. I think we made an impact on the lives of 39 young Senegalese girls, and for that, I am happy.

Next on the agenda: mangrove reforestation in September, school nutrition trainings in October, and lots and lots of tea.

Where I’m the Pied Piper and Santa Claus

So this past week was the Kaolack Girls’ Leadership Camp. It was held in a campement in Sokone, and it brought 40 girls from the regions of Fatick, Kaolack, and Kaffrine together for a week of fun and learning. We focused on a different theme each day. On Environment Day we discussed gardening and the earth. On Career Day we had women from the area come in and discuss jobs. The goal was to open these girls’ eyes to new ideas and possibilities.

I helped out with a lot of sessions, but I ran one of them: Container Gardening. On Wednesday, I did three identical sessions on how to plant mint in found objects (i.e. water bottles, old tomato cans, etc.). I discussed how, if you don’t have space to start a big garden, there are a lot of possibilities to grow things. All of this was in Wolof, by the way. It went rather well, and the girls responded positively. They all took the containers home with them.

How did I acquire 40 containers for the sessions, you ask? Ah, let me tell you.

PICTURE THIS: me wandering around the Sokone market with a gaggle of Senegalese children trailing close behind carrying garbage. Yep, this happened.

I spent several days wandering around town looking for possible containers for my sessions. One day, I ended up in the market in the late afternoon. Few people were around. I had a big rice sac filled with random objects, which I carried with me. I stumbled upon two boys playing with an empty water bottle.

Me: Hey kids! Can I have that bottle?
Kids: No.
Me: It’s just a bottle. Give it to me!
Kids: NO!
Me: Ugh. I’ll give you 25 CFA for it.
Kids: Okay.

I gave them the money (around five cents), took the bottle, and continued on my way. Five minutes later, two other boys come up to me with an old plastic bucket.

Boys: Do you want this bucket?
Me: Yeah! Thanks!
Boys: Where’s our money?
Me: What?
Boys: We heard you were giving away money for garbage.
Me: Um, no. Do you want to give me that bucket anyway?
Boys: Um, no.

Seriously, kids kept approaching me with random garbage and holding it out to me. Of course, they all rudely wanted compensation. One little boy, bless his heart, just gave me a bottle and ran off. Not the brightest, obviously.

I ended up getting enough containers for all the girls, and I only paid for the one. I got a lot of interesting looks though as I rooted through garbage for two days. They didn’t think the toubab was weird enough, I guess.

PICTURE THIS: me wandering around a small Senegalese village with a big sac full of gifts to hand out. Also happened.

It’s seed extension time here in Senegal. Part of my job description includes extending improved seed varieties to local farmers and/or citizens. Peace Corps paired up with ISRA (L’Institut sénégalais de recherches agricoles), who supplies the seeds to all the agriculture volunteers. I decided to extend my seed (sounds dirty, but it isn’t) in my friend Joey’s village. I also gave my host dad some seeds, too. He was pleased.

So last week I biked out to Joey’s village, which is five kilometers away, with around 12 kilos of corn, beans, and millet. I mostly extended the seed to women, which I thought was a really good idea because women farmers get shafted a lot in this country. When I got to Joey’s village, we organized everything and headed out to the compounds. I carried a huge sac of seeds, and we went door to door.

At each house, we explained the program. Basically, if we give a farmer one kilo of corn, when harvest time comes, he has to give us two kilos of corn. It’s not that difficult. It’s a decent program, and all the villagers were really excited. After two weeks, and then again after four weeks, I have to check up on them to make sure everything is going swimmingly.

Yep, so that’s pretty much what’s been going on with me recently. Tomorrow I am heading down to the southeast corner of the country for 4th of July. I am going to be crammed in a car from Kaolack to Kedougou for eight hours. Wish me luck.