Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Picture clarification

Just so that you all know. I have been adding pictures onto pre-existing albums to avoid having a string of tiny albums. So check back and there might just well be ones that you haven't yet seen. Specifically, I added some today on Baptism and Family Lam. So enjoy! And thank you all for following along.

The garage

PC administration tells us that most PCV’s either have their breakdowns at the bank, or at the internet café. I find that hard to believe. I think that if ever a breakdown is going to happen, it will be at the garage. The garage is where you go for “public transport.” I usually end up dealing with it once a week so that I can trek the 23K to the nearest town to have internet. I’m going to try my best to describe it to you all.

Firstly, it is run by young, usually 20 or 30 somethings mostly Wolof (so they are typically more aggressive) men. Walking into the compound, groups of them will bombard you and ask “Topa daa?” (“where are you going?”). And once you’ve cleared that group another couple of them will repeat the same thing. And I am almost always asked where or who my husband is and if I want a Senegalese one. And when I explain that I do NOT want one, I am bombarded with questions until I can prove my conviction.

You stuff yourself onto a bus, or a minibus, or whatever brokedown vehicle is hopefully going to get you there on time and then you wait. You wait until it is SO full you can’t even believe it will run. More often then not the windshield is busted. It is usually decorated to the max.

Children run up beside the car and ask you to buy water “Ndiam…ndiam!” Women beg you to buy bananas, peanuts, mangos, anything and everything that they are selling. Carts and trays and bags of things are shoved in your face, in the hopes that one whiff of food will convince you to buy their product.

As the car fills up and we all sit there, little Talibe boys come up beside the car and start to sing. They chant something in Arabic that I can’t understand and they wait for some poor soul to give them 50 CFA (about 10 cents). And they will stand there and sing and wait until the car literally pulls away with them hanging on until the last second. Sometimes I just can’t stand it and I give them whatever change I have, but that never solves the problem, because then he will go and tell his friends that the toubak is giving out money and the next one comes and starts to sing. It is a lose-lose situation.

But that is not how it always happens.

Sometimes the car takes off right away and no one has the time to sell me anything. And those are those blissful moments when I count my lucky stars and hope that we won’t stop too much on the way.

Inevitably there are goats attached to the roof, and men hanging off the back and you are stuffed in between “Smelly McSmellerson” and you have to just grin and bear it as you pull at the sweaty clothes on your back.

But it’s still totally overwhelming.

I have found that the best remedy is to find that “zen place.” That zen “garage” place. Where yes, you are miserable, and you have a 6 hour bus ride ahead of you, and the old man in the grand boo boo is sleeping on your shoulder and he smells to high heaven, and your feet are asleep, but you are moving. Moving is key to keeping your sanity.

The worst is when we stop.

Sometimes you can’t tell why you’re delayed. You can’t see beyond the next person to see what is going on and you have to assume that it is to pick up another passenger. But often it is just to greet, or to stop for a random gendarmie and bribe him into an oblivion.
Sometimes it’s to fix a flat, or to replace a transmission. Cars breakdown all the time. Today for instance, we didn’t have any technical difficulties, but I had planned on arriving early to town to have the day with other volunteers. I arrived at the garage in my town at 8:15am. We left the garage (aka. The car filled up) at 9:15am. Then it took us Almost an hour to drive 23k.

This is why the garage is an absolute test in patience.

But sometimes I can step aside and smile and watch women throw the babies on their back and tie them securely and walk away confidently carrying a rice sack atop their elegant, elongated necks, with another toddler by the hand and I think to myself…
I can get through this. It’s just a car ride.

Work Hard, Play Hard

Work Hard, Play Hard

This is an expression that I use a lot at home. Perhaps it is just my own “life philosophy” or maybe it is an ultimately American notion…I dunno. But I do know that it fits my life pretty much exactly. I know when to buckle down and work until I’m exhausted and that is always my first priority, but I also know how and when to take time off and explore new places, people, and things.

I guess I never thought that such a simple saying, one that I consider almost part of daily parlance, would be so inspiring to someone else. But bear with me, because this story is only a preview into a larger entry about my work here in Senegal as an Urban/rural preventative health education volunteer.

I met up with a teacher today, who has lived and worked in my town for 5 years. (Teachers here do not get a choice in where they get sent. Of course most of them want to be near Dakar, or near the ocean, or near home, but sometimes they end up here in the desert.) This English teacher, Mr. Diouf, and I arranged to meet early Saturday morning. Apparently he worked very closely with the two previous volunteers and is a very motivated (and quite hilarious) and friendly guy.

There I was at the only private school in town (5,000 CFA per month~10 dollars) when I made the connection that the mayor (whom I have met several times—also very friendly but firm) is the headmaster of this school. While I was there he stopped by, and the three of us held an impromptu meeting in his office about my work in the town, and about the school’s exam results (as this is its first year and there is a lot of pressure to produce high marks).

While the two men were planning the end of the school year party, Mr. Diouf offered up the expression that I had taught him only moments earlier “Work Hard Play Hard.”

It is hard to describe the instant approval that washed over the mayor’s face once I translated the meaning of this expression “Travailler dure, jouer dure.” It was as if I had just given him the key to eternal life or something! He immediately started reciting it and wrote it all over his calendar and went on and on for ten minutes about why that is such a brilliant saying and that “yes, of course work must come first, but one is nothing without the other” etc. etc.

The three of us made a few more jokes, set the date for the end of school party which they are eager for me to attend and then we parted ways.

I know that today, I made an ally of the mayor. And I know that he is one of the more important individuals to have on my side because all big meetings, health talks, events, must go through his office.

This is my work.

On my way home I stopped by the “Forestry Dept.” building, realizing that I had still not introduced myself. I just waltzed right in and was given an impromptu tour of the place and a brief summary of the work that they do there. They were all young, from Dakar, very nice young men and eager to take me on a tour of all of the plants they were growing and the peppinieres they so carefully guard and distribute to anyone who asks for them. Then they asked me about my work there as a Peace Corps volunteer. It was only a brief half hour exchange, but I am confident that keeping these 4 men closeby will come in handy when I want to pursue projects involving nutrition and gardening.

This is my work.

Sitting around with my sisters for hours and hours every evening until one night one of them gets up the courage to ask me about AIDS.

This is my work

Reinforcing the good behavior of my younger siblings when they wash their hands with soap before eating.

This is my work.

Attending a conference run by a local NGO to train health workers in my town and making my face known, and making connections and pinpointing future resources.

This is my work.

As an urban volunteer, finding resources that will be useful to nearby village-based PCVs.

This is my work.

Taking over the bi-monthly health radio show run by current PCVs once they leave (and once my Pulaar is good enough).

This is my work.

Hanging around at my counterparts house and meeting and greeting other officials that stop by and drinking tea with them and discussing future projects for the upcoming year.

This is my work.

Being invited by the mayor’s office to take a tour of the new hospital construction site and being included in the meeting about it’s opening ceremony (which President Abdoulaye Wade has promised to attend!)

This is my work.

I cannot put it into a soundbyte, or even give a few short sentences for family members to recite to friends. But I can share my stories with all of you. And I can describe the kinds of day to day interactions that right now in my first three months of “Community Entry Phase” will allow me to do my “real work” later.

It is totally open ended, and there is tons of room for creativity. Yes it is challenging to be “thrown” into a community with no specific task, or boss, or end goal, but it also means that there is that much more opportunity for invention. I think that the most wonderful thing about being a PCV is that we do come into the community and let them tell us what they need! Ultimately, we are “public servants” in every sense of the word. I am not here with an agenda of the ‘development’ work that I think will be beneficial. No. I am here to watch and observe, and brainstorm, and talk, and most importantly listen…to the needs, of this community, to the problems they want addressed and to work WITH them to create sustainable ways to help them achieve their health goals.

As an American I understand that this entry is probably making you all nuts. I too sometimes don’t even know how to explain my work. So I will try to give you a more concrete description to take away.

Yes, I am a health education volunteer. This means that I can work with schools, with women’s and men’s groups, with the health post, with the mayor’s office, with NGOs, to organize health talks, health clubs, get kids to put on skits, bring in the Forestry Dept. to donate and teach the local school how to keep a garden and discuss the importance of nutrition etc. I can hang out at the health post on vaccination days and talk with moms about their children’s health. I can work with the mayor’s office to organize meetings with existing groups and offer my services to lead talks. And the list goes on…

Ultimately, the end goal is to meet motivated individual point people in the community and over the two years, train them to become health “relais”…that is community health educators. To train them to be able to lead Malaria Awareness Day’s in nearby villages, or lead a Diarrhea Causerie at a local school, or any number of different subjects and projects. This is what makes my ‘sector’ sustainable. Meanwhile, many volunteers will guest teach in an English class, or have English club meetings at people’s houses and use English to talk about health related concerns.

I guess in some ways, I am an organizer? Because at least in my town, there are so many projects and people all working towards the same goal, and so many untapped resources and so many motivated individuals that it is a full time job to put all of the pieces together.

But all of these kinds of interactions take time. And often it is just a crapshoot and you have to be at the right place at the right time and meet the right person. This is why hanging around and greeting, and meeting everyone possible and attending events, and learning Pulaar, and just making my face known is the most important thing for me to be doing right now.

I have TONS of ideas for projects floating around in my head and I can’t wait to start my actual “work” once I return in September from In Service Training. Until then, I have to keep studying my Pulaar frantically, and meeting everyone under this sweltering Sahelian sun. Because that is the only way that I will be accepted into this community and the only way they will later take me seriously when the uncomfortable conversations about STIs, and population growth, and forced marriages, and nutrition, and breastfeeding, and gender roles come into play.

This is my work. Work Hard, Play Hard.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

No es facil

This is the text message I sent to some of the other volunteers last week.

“A goat just pissed on my face. Africa: 1, Caitlin: 0”

True story. Myself and 3 other volunteers were heading to the regional house for our regional retreat for 4 days and to celebrate our first month at site. There were two goats strapped to the roof (as usual) and as we watched the men tie up their legs and load the two creatures into rice sacks, I joked to the other volunteers about what the poor goats are supposed to do when they have to pee? Stop at a McDonalds?

Well, I asked for it.

There I was, riding in the set-place (smaller car, not a bus) with the 3 other volunteers and a couple of old Senegalese men. The morning wind was blissfully cool because of the fantastic sand and rain storm we had had the night before. The windows were rolled down and we only had two more hours to go. Suddenly we noticed a few drops of water coming from outside and splattering on our arms. Weird we thought, seeing as we’re in the desert. But we quickly figured out that no, it was not a fluke rainstorm, it was goat #1 taking a pee. Gross right? Not yet. Realizing this, the man next to me rolled the window up a bit and thinking it was over we sat back and I plugged back into my I-pod. But oh no, the goat was not finished. As soon as I leaned back into my seat, I got a huge spray of goat urine ALL over my face. Disgusting. At least my mouth was closed. Yuck.

I didn’t get mad. I couldn’t. What would have been the point? It’s not the goat’s fault, or the driver’s, or the man by the window. It was just one of those things.
I wiped my face as best I could, turned back to the other volunteers for some sympathetic looks and some teasing comments about goat urine being good for the skin and just sighed to myself.

No es facil.

No es facil. This is a phrase that I learned from my brother as a Cuban saying when things go wrong. Literally translated it means “It’s not easy,” but it’s really just a wittier way of saying “Life is hard, and this sucks.” It’s an expression that for some reason I find great comfort in and have taken to mumbling it to myself and to other volunteers on a daily basis.

The other night after being sandblasted by a sandstorm and waiting it out under my sheet, I woke up around 2 am to use the ‘bathroom’ and some horrible mysterious creature stung the top of my foot 3x. It was the sharpest most painful thing I think I’ve ever experienced and it really scared me. I texted a couple of other volunteers which made me feel better and so I spent the night trying to sleep through the intense knifelike pain. The next day the pain came in waves, but it was mostly just itchy. Then the 2nd day my foot started to swell and I could clearly see the three bite marks. No worries though, I called the PC medical officer and took some benadryl, made a paste of baking soda and water to smother it in, and the swelling was gone the next day. But the bite marks are still there and still red and I still have NO idea what it was. I’m doubting a scorpion, and too painful for the fire ants…perhaps a spider?

Africa, no es facil.

Sahelian sandstorms

The weather in the desert is hot, it is dry, it is unpredictable, at times terrifying and it is unlike any other climate I’ve ever experienced. Sometimes the desert makes me feel vulnerable and exposed, but other times I thank my lucky stars that I’m not stuck in the middle of a jungle with snakes and inexplicable humidity. This month is supposedly the hottest month of the year but it has not been any hotter (or cooler) than last month. The newest climatic phenomenon to appear in my life is the Sahelian sandstorm. They are unpredictable and each one is unique from the last so when I do sense that one is on the horizon its hard to know how quickly to act. I will go through a couple of them so that you can get an idea of what they’re like.

The first one came in the middle of the night. This is the worst kind. Because there I was, asleep outside, tucked away under my mosquito net and suddenly the wind picked up and a strong gust woke me up. So I peered up at the sky and because it was a full bright moon I could see a black cloud in the distance. Assuming sandstorm I hustled to detach my mosquito net from the clothesline and brought my bed into my hut. So there I sat in the dark, sweating profusely with all of my doors shut and locked, and listened to the BBC on handheld radio and waited out the deafening storm. Because it was my first one it was pretty disconcerting and I kept envisioning my tin roof getting blown off of my hut and being sandblasted all night long. But of course that didn’t happen. Instead, the storm passed and was followed with just enough rain to rinse off the ground and turn the sandy dirt into a thick paste.

A day or two later my second sand storm came up out of nowhere in the late evening when I was taking my bucket bath. I happened to look up and see a billowing dark brown cloud coming towards my hut. I scurried about closing my doors, and bringing in all of the buckets and clothes I had out in my douche. I got the back door closed and locked just as the wall of sand, wind, and darkness descended on our compound. The power was of course out so I sat in my hut again, 115 degrees, in the pitch black with the deafening sound of wind, sand, and rocks banging against my tin roof at record speeds. I again switched on the BBC to keep myself occupied. I wrapped myself in a sheet to protect myself from the sand that was falling in from the holes in my roof and from under the door and through the cracks. About an hour later I emerged from my hut to assess the damage. Nothing major, just tons of sand everywhere, and some broken tree branches.

Since then there have been about 6 other storms. One day there was 2 within 6 hours of eachother. Sometimes they come with rain, sometimes with lightening, and sometimes the wind just picks up for hours and the sky is hazy and sand blows but there is no climax and I just spend the day inside sweating and breathing into a handkerchief. I have tried to learn to just ride them out when they come at night and I now keep a sheet nearby so that if one does descend upon me without warning I can cover up in bed and sleep through it.

Yeah right.

I think it will take me longer than a month to be able to do that successfully. But you really just learn to tolerate being a little bit sandy all the time. I often wake up in the morning and feel like I have been using a rough, smelly exfoliator because I will touch my face and it is covered with sand and dirt and dried sweat. But after a bucket bath I feel renewed and ready to face the next Sahelian sand storm.

I am told that soon the rains will start coming more frequently towards the end of this month (usually about once a week during the rainy season) and with them the mosquitoes and many many scorpions, and their cousin the scorpion spider (harmless I’m told…yeah right). Oh good.

I’m waiting for the day when I’m sitting in the middle of a rainstorm battling scorpions in my room and just wishing for a hot, dry sandstorm.

1 month down, 23 to go...

1 month down 23 to go…

I have officially completed one month at site, and three months in country, knocking 3 months off of my 26 month commitment to PC Senegal. Looking back it has gone by quickly, but individual days can sometimes drag on forever.

I thought it might be fun to create a list for my first month:

# of scorpions I’ve seen/killed in my room: 6
# of scorpions I’ve seen/killed at the regional house: 2
# of times I’ve cried at site: 3
# of times I’ve texted other volunteers at 2am because I was feeling lonely, or vulnerable, or scared: 3
# of its own kittens my family’s cat has eaten: 2
# of hours it takes me to do my laundry by hand: 2
# of hours it takes laundry to dry in the desert: ½
# of volunteers I’ve had visit me at site: 2
# of packages currently in the mail: 2
# of packages I’ve received during the past 3 months: 3
# of times a week I go to the internet: 1
# of times a week I have to scrub my feet with a pummice stone to keep my heels from cracking and bleeding: 2
# of times a day I’m asked for things by my family, villagers etc.: roughly 10
# of volunteers from our group that have early terminated their service already: 2
# of times a week I talk to my parents on the phone: 1
# of people from home who are already planning their trips to visit me in country: 2
# of times I’ve been stung by mysterious creatures: 1
# of times I’ve been sunburned despite wearing sunscreen: 2
# of degrees in my room during the hottest part of the day: 1115-120
# of goats that have peed on my face: 1
# of items in my high “maintenance bag” (bag I take to sleep with me): 7
# of liters of water I drink per day: 10
# of times per week I have to do laundry because my clothing gets so filthy: 2
# of weeks it takes me to receive a package: 4
# of times per day I’m asked to take someone’s baby to America with me: 1-2
# of times per day the electricity and running water shut off: 2-5

I anticipate that these next few months are going to go by quickly and before I know it I will be back in Thies for In Service Training for the month of August and my first 3 months of the community entry phase will be over. Then it’s back to site in September and I brace myself for heat and hunger of the month of Ramadan. Things are clipping along one day at a time…

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Living in a world of mood swings

Mood swings.

I don’t think of myself as a moody person. In fact, if anything I am always known for being perpetually happy—sometimes even annoyingly so.

It’s a phenomenon that maybe only other Peace Corps volunteers can really relate to, or other people living abroad in development, I don’t really know. But it is a constant source of fatigue right now in my life.

Yesterday I went to the cyber café and uploaded a blog entry about how great I was doing and how easily I was settling in. And at that moment, it was absolutely true. I felt on top of the world.

Today, I hate everything and everyone and I just want to shut my door and blast music and dance around my room and throw things, and scream and yell and cry and call my friends and seek out sympathy.

And today started out as a good day but as I’m learning, here, my mood can and does change in an instant.

It’s not any one particular thing, but it’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Sometimes you can only take so much. And ultimately, I know that it’s okay to have these moments, or days, that they are normal, that they are part of what makes this experience so challenging, but in the moment, there is nothing that can console you.

This is what happened.

I started the morning off great, I had gotten a great night’s sleep (this is rare) and had a lot planned for the day and was looking forward to market day (every Thursday) and buying peanut butter and hard boiled eggs and a pumice stone (to scrub my feet!) and I was going to go to the tailor, and the post office, and prepare the scholarship applications to be sent it and it hasn’t been all that hot the past couple of days (only 110 in my room!) and and and…

In the morning my Yaaye came in my room and helped teach me how to clean my douche. This was pretty embarassing, but I’ve learned that she is never mad, it’s just lost in translation sometimes. She showed me what tools I needed to make my shower area drain because I had a lot of standing water (perfect mosquito breeding ground and scorpion drinking opportunity) and so she was very clear and patient with me and helped me to clean it all up and told me that I had to do that EVERY DAY. Now, I was pretty embarrassed being told how to clean up sand, and felt guilty that I hadn’t done a good job, childish really. And I asked if she was mad at me and she was so surprised and reassured me that she’s never mad that I am just like her child and she wanted to help me.
So I cleaned and cleaned and now it will be easier to take care of.
I love my Yaaye.
I went through my daily routine. Did yoga, ate breakfast, showered. So I had a bit of a late start, but I was ready for my day.

I set off for the post office hoping my package from my mom had arrived, but no such luck. (I did have a postcard waiting for me though!! Thank you!) But I was still in a great mood. Met a nice woman who said she worked at the pharmacy in the next village over and hoping I could come by there sometime and maybe do a presentation there. (She is somehow related to my family….sort of like everyone else!).

What started it was my sister. Binta, the older one, who is actually my sister-in-law and is the one who relentlessly asks me for things. On my way to the market she stopped me and asked me to change a 10,000 CFA bill for her. A challenge and I was dreading it cuz no one EVER has change, but I was up for it. Then she grabs my shirt and starts buttoning it all the way up (I leave the top buttons undone, because it’s like 1,000 degrees and p.s. We live in the DESERT) saying that I need to keep my shirt buttoned. When I protested and pushed her hands away laughing and claiming that it’s WAY too hot to have a shirt fully buttoned, she started at it again and told me that the breakout on my chest (a couple of annoying zits that are a product of sweating CONSTANTLY and having sand and dirt blown all over me) was not nice to look at and that I needed to button up!

Now, this is not a cultural thing. Women’s breasts hang out of their shirts and dresses all the time, and you can wear lowcut things so that is not the issue. It was just so malicious and unnecessary and it took me aback. She is already the one that I avoid like the plague because she is CONSTANTLY badgering me for things and this was just enough. (I held my tongue about the fact that she has some sort of fungal infection on her hand and arms that isn’t so pleasing to look at either. Maybe I should’ve said something?).

So I quite quickly told her (in Pulaar mind you) that she was NOT my mom “Wonaa neene maa” and explained (in French) that I could not help it and that it’s hot and I sweat and that’s what happens. I think she got the idea that I was pissed at her and she tried to make a joke out of it and I walked away (and accompanied HER mom) all the way to the market and tried to shake it off.

Right then I should have avoided the market. As much as I love getting the things I want it is an exhausting exercise. EVERYONE yells at me to come by their stuff and all I hear is “toubak argaaye!” Most times people are jolly and in good humor and most things I can let roll off my back but when the 6th child asked me for money without even greeting me first, I could feel myself getting really annoyed and so I bought everything as quickly as possible and headed out.

The market is a whole beast on its own. Because when I say that children come up to me, I don’t mean they tap you on the shoulder politely and step back and give you space, I mean they follow you around and grab your hands and pull your clothes and try to look in your bags. And people shove things in your face and ask you to buy them and men tell you to take them to America, meanwhile you’re paranoid that at any second someone is going to steal something out of your bag etc etc etc.

I decided to stop by my counterpart’s house because I hadn’t seen her for a few days. When I got there the first words out of her mouth were “I’m mad at you.”
“What?” I said.
“I’m mad at you because you haven’t come to my house for so long.”

This is a typical Senegalese reaction and it isn’t really a big deal (so I’m told) but in training we are grilled with the fact that we need to keep up regular relationships and try to visit people as much as possible so I was feeling badly and worried that I’ve screwed things up with her.
Long story short she wasn’t all that mad, it’s just a typical reaction. I told her I’d spend the day at her place tomorrow and that I would go with her to a causerie on AIDS on Saturday in the next village. (which is great cuz it’s something I need to see how to do). There were a couple of men there though and they kept trying to tell me something in Pulaar and I just wasn’t understanding them, and at that point I was done and just wanted to go home. But they just kept repeating themselves over and over and over the exact same way and at the exact same speed. Obviously I didn’t understand. And I started to get so frustrated.

And there was another man there who had worked with the previous volunteer on a Malaria Awareness Day project and he started asking me to come to his village and get the materials to do a mosquito net dipping project and kept asking me when I was going to come do it and that it should be soon because the rainy season was coming.
But I’m not even supposed to be doing ANY work during these first three months. I’m supposed to be getting to know my OWN community and learning Pulaar first and foremost and not rush into projects and especially not projects in other villages yet.

I tried to make myself feel better and explained to my counterpart that I had done a TON of stuff this past week and had finished all 7 interviews and home visits, and applications and recommendations, and been to the mayors office and had met a lot of people to prove to her that I had been busy and doing a lot and that’s why I hadn’t come by her house. But she seemed unimpressed and it just made me feel worse.

And then I walked passed those men again and they tried to repeat the same thing and were obviously annoyed that I didn’t understand what they were saying. The worst part is that there were people there that DO speak French and yet nobody bothered to translate to me so that I didn’t look like an idiot. I mean, I do actually speak really good French, but it’s often underutilized and I’m still unsure as to why.

So I excused myself and told my counterpart that I would come by tomorrow and I just burst into tears as I walked out of her house.

It was all just too much.

So I called another volunteer and cried and cried and of course couldn’t talk as long as I had wanted because I ran out of credit and we aren’t getting paid until next week so I didn’t have the money to buy more.


Then at lunch I wasn’t understanding what anyone was saying to me and we had a guest so of course I had to have the “why don’t you want a Senegalese husband conversation” and I still wasn’t understanding what they were asking me and then they started talking about me and how I wasn’t learning Pulaar quickly enough and that the OTHER volunteer learned it faster and studied more than I do blah blah blah.

Then to top it all off I excused myself from lunch and then the infamous older sister Binta, called on everyone to stare at my butt as I walked away and they were yelling at me to shake my ‘jaye fondae’ for them as I walked away (something they do CONSTANTLY) and I became overwhelmingly self-conscious of 8 people (men and women) all staring at my butt and whooping and hollering. And again it was too much.

So I retreated to my room and burst into tears for the second time that day.

I don’t mean for this to be a whining session. Not at all actually. In fact, as they told us at staging, when you’re having a bad day, if you are going to keep a blog, please take a step back, and cool down before you rant all over the internet.

And I have cooled down and reflected on what it is that makes it so hard.

And while I can’t pinpoint it this time, I know that it really is just all the little things that build up and then explode. I think the hardest part about being a PCV is that it’s impossible to get away. Even when I retreated home things just got worse. There is nowhere to ‘hideout’ when you need it. Even in your room, people pass by constantly to say hello and ask for things and all the while you feel guilty for sitting in your room and not taking every moment to study or practice Pulaar.

Part of me is even hesitant to post this blog entry. Part of me wants to keep it to myself and hide it away and then read it in 2 years and look back and laugh at how hard it was at first and how much I’ve conquered and accomplished since then. And part of me is embarassed at my own weakness and inability to cope with such trivial problems.

But there is a more persuasive part of me that feels like it is my job to paint the whole picture for all of you at home. For you to understand and glimpse a little bit into my life. Into the mood swing rollercoaster ride that is the Peace Corps experience.

And part of me hopes that I will find understanding among my peers and my family members at home, and maybe even random strangers who take the time to follow along with this crazy adventure that I have embarked upon.

There is one thing though, that despite all of this, keeps me smiling and reassures me that this is the right choice/path for me. That is, that despite how hard today was, despite my frustration and feelings of guilt and awkwardness, and inferiority and being put on display, there was not a second…not one second, when I wanted to throw in the towel and go home. I think that is something to be proud of. And that makes me smile.


So after writing all about my bad day, I went out again to buy some phone credit once it had cooled off. As I was strolling by the elementary school near my house an older man laying on a mat called out to me. Usually I just give a quick greeting and wave or quickly shake hands and carry on, but this time he called out in English,
“American or French?”
“Are you Peace Corps?”
“Yes. I am. I’m replacing Koumba Lam (the volunteer before me)”
“Thank you. Thank you for helping us.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Thank you for coming here. You’re here to help us. You sacrificed a lot and left your home to be here with us. Thank you.” (For a split second I was totally dumbfounded. I almost burst into tears. I wanted to run up and hug this man. He had absolutely no idea how desperately I had needed to hear that.)
So I went over and shook his hand and thanked him for saying that, all the while fighting off tears.
Turns out he is the head teacher at the elementary school and I’m hoping that when the next school year starts up again that he will be a great collaborator and ally.

And that was all he wanted. Just to thank me. He did not ask me to take him to the states, or ask me if I wanted a husband, or ask me for money, he just went back to resting on his mat as if nothing had happened. And then I was elated. In the ‘upswing’ as I like to call it.
So on my way, I wandered into a random compound to greet and I came across a wonderful new family. They were SO excited that I came to greet them and the girls sat around me and told me how beautiful I was the day of my baptism (apparently they were there, but I don’t really remember). “Le jour de ton bapteme tu était RAVISSANTE!”

And they offered to help me with my Pulaar anytime I needed it, and they made me promise to come back and visit them often and they were going to go out and buy me some cold soda (something you do here for guests, eventhough its expensive), but I had to get home and promised to come back soon. But it was just such a lovely interaction and further boosted my mood.
Then I ran into my little sister and we had a lovely quiet walk home hand in hand.

And I spent the whole walk thinking about what a good mood I was in compared to that morning. Exhausting, but at least the day ended on a high note!

Living in a world of mood swings.


As I’ve mentioned before, greetings are a huge part of life here in Senegal. In fact, it’s probably the only thing I’ve yet mastered in Pulaar, and even then sometimes people will throw new ones at me that I don’t understand. I probably greet 50 times a day I would say at least. Some of them are especially funny when translated so I thought that I would translate a normal greeting for all of you.

1: What are you doing? (How are you?)
2: Peace Only
1: Are you well?
2: It’s fine
1: How are you doing with the tiredness?
2: Peace only/ It’s fine
1: How are you doing with the heat?
2: Peace only/it’s fine. It’s HOT!
1: Yes it’s HOT huh?
2: Every day it’s hot.
1: How is your family (literally your house?)
2: They are fine. Alhamdoulilah! How is your family?
1: In peace. How are your relatives?
2: In peace/They are fine.
1: How are your children?
2: They are in peace. Alhamdoulilah. It’s fine.What’s your name?
1: Binta Lam. What is your name?
2: Oumou Sall (for example). How is your husband/wife?
1: He/She is fine. Alhamdoulilah! Sall.
2: How are you doing with being beautiful? Lam.
1: I am not in it (‘it’ meaning being beautiful). How are you doing with the work?
2: It is fine. How are you doing with resting? Lam.
1: Peace only. Alhamdoulilah. Sall. How are you doing with the mosquitoes?
2: It’s fine/Peace only.
1: I greet your house/family! Sall. Sall. Sall.
2: They will hear you. Lam. Lam.
1: Peace only. Sall Sall.
2: Peace only. Lam. Lam.

Now that is a rough version and all the while you are holding hands with the person. There are all kinds of additions you can throw in there. Often “how are you doing” and “peace only” and “it’s fine” are just repeated over and over and inserted in a haphazard kind of way throughout the greeting. It’s kind of lovely to think of strangers greeting eachother though and repeating “Peace Only” over and over. But now imagine that being recited as fast as you possibly can and often people will just talk over one another and not even directly respond to the questions. It takes practice but luckily there are plenty of opportunities to do so.

There are also all sorts of gestures that are allowed and not allowed and different age groups and even religious sects (I think) will greet different ways. There are some men for example who are not allowed to shake women’s hands. Instead they will just clasp their hands together and nod vehemently. This also happens when people are in the middle of praying and they want you to know that they are greeting you but they are not supposed to talk or be touched during prayer.
Some men will take eachother’s hands and bring them to their foreheads repeatedly. Some will shake your hand and then touch their heart. If you are passing by a large group and you do not have time to greet everyone you can get away with just clasping your hands together and holding them up in the air to them about chest high and then touching your heart. This is actually a very respectful way of greeting and it makes you stand out from just a toubak that waves at people.

Young women will often do a small knee bend when they greet older men. Though I’m not entirely clear when that should happen because I did it once when I first greeted a bunch of Notables and an Imam here in Kanel and I got lots of giggles from some onlookers. Also, I have had a couple of little girls curtsy to me. This always makes me smile because I know that it is a sign of the utmost respect and it’s cute that they think that they should curtsy to me just because I’m a toubak and a guest. It always brightens my day. Once I had a little girl curtsy and then kiss me on the hand. I almost died laughing. These interactions are a zillion times better than when small children see me coming and either run and hide or burst into tears. That happens on a daily basis. Today actually I met one who was so terrified, screaming, crying and would not look at me so her mom had to take her to the other room!

There are also some other eye contact rules that I’m still unsure of, but I don’t think they apply to me as much because I’m a toubak and people know that I don’t know what they are. Namely that younger men and women will often not look directly at older men in the eye. Instead they sort of gaze next to and down to show respect as they greet.

Something else that I just love seeing and see it constantly is that men of all ages hold hands here and I don’t mean just when they’re greeting. Good friends will walk hand in hand or with their arms around eachother’s waists or shoulders and holding hands at the same time. Groups of them will do this altogether. It’s sweet and the novelty still has not worn off because men in the states just aren’t that touchy with eachother. The downside is that women don’t hold hands nearly as much. I mean they can, but they tend not to.

*Maybe this is one of the reasons that I love my sister Mariata so much (my favorite) because she is so touchy-feely (something that I’m very accustomed to) and will always hold my hand or play with my hair or we’ll lay around with our limbs piled on top of one another. And she hugs! Something almost nobody does and I miss desperately.*

One of the best parts about learning all of these silly greetings is to do it in English with other volunteers. This is an endlessly fun game. Can you imagine going up to a friend or even a total stranger and asking them how they are doing with the mosquitoes? Priceless.

Naamdu Senegalnaabe

Senegalese Dishes:

There are not very many, but I think that you should all know what I eat everyday.

For my family and most other Senegalese families breakfast is white ‘village’ baguette bread (meaning thick spongey and delicious, cooked in mud stoves) and Nescafe coffee (with TONS of sugar in it) or Kinkilibe (a delicious tea with milk and sugar that unfortunately my family does not drink). Sometimes they will put beans, or an oily tomato sauce on the bread, but usually it is just bread.

I actually eat my own breakfasts (variations on: oatmeal, hard boiled eggs, fruit, peanut butter and bread) because it is my one chance to have whole grains and eggs or fruit (aka. Something a bit more substantial to tide me over because lunch is usually around 2 pm).

ALWAYS “Marro e Liddi” which means “Rice and Fish.” This is the national dish and everyone eats it for lunch every day.

Imagine a big bowl of rice, oily oily rice, sometimes tomatoey oil, sometimes not. A couple of whole (bones and everything) fish on top. Then the vegetables are always the same: cabbage, a carrot or two, an eggplant, maybe a potato, maybe some bisap leaf paste (very sour and now palatable after 3 months in country), a piece of manioc/cassava, lots of onions, a hot pepper (which I avoid like the plague) and TONS OF SPICE AND OIL! I’m talking puddles of oil. Literally, and the wealthier you are, the more oil you put on your food. Since my family is pretty comfortable I usually have oil dripping down my hands by the end of the meal. Now I really am not quite sick of it yet. I still enjoy marro e liddi, but you should know that it’s not as if the vegetables are steamed and the fish marinated. Nope, they are all cooked to death in huge quantities of oil in a big pot over an open fire. I foresee a day in the future where if I eat another bite of marro e liddi I will puke everywhere, but that day has not yet arrived thankfully.

My strategy is to try and only eat the fish and vegetables and eat as little rice as possible to decrease my oil content, and because of this my family thinks that I do not eat and they are concerned that I will lost my jaye fundae! (I don’t know how to tell them in Pulaar that the amount of oil I consume in one meal is probably more than I would eat in a week at home!)

Another dish that they sometimes cook is Mafe. There are all sorts of variations on Mafe. There is mafe yassa, which is rice with an oily onion sauce and maybe fish, or chicken, and some overcooked chopped carrots mixed in.
But my FAVORITE is mafe gete, which is peanut mafe. It’s basically a thick oily peanut sauce blended with a little bit of tomato sauce over rice with some fish and vegetables thrown in and it’s TOO DIE FOR! We ate it today at my family’s house for the first time and it’s the first meal where I’ve actually finished my section of the bowl. (Needless to say they were thrilled!)


HACO!! I LOVE HACO! Seriously, I’m obsessed with it. It’s going to sound totally disgusting to the rest of you and there is a huge debate among volunteers because most people either love it or can’t even look at it.
I think that one of the reasons I like it so much is because it’s the closest I’m going to get to eating a dark green leafy vegetable, and there’s very little oil in it and it’s over millet instead of rice.
It’s made from bean leaves. Literally, the leaves that come from bean plants. They are chopped up and soaked in water and mushed up with fish and some spices to make a sort of mushy green fishy paste. (I know, I know, it sounds disgusting, but it’s the closest thing I get to spinach). So that is poured over the millet (sort of like couscous) and you ball it up and eat with your hands.

Actually, all the dishes are eaten by balling up the food and eaten with the hands (RIGHT HAND ONLY ALWAYS!) and there is a technique that I have now mostly mastered but definitely took some time. I still drop rice all over myself sometimes though, but less than I did at first so that’s progress.

When we don’t have Haco, it’s usually some gross oily version of Rice and Fish, with fewer vegetables, and more oil and the rice is mushier. When this is dinner (usually every 2 or 3 days) I just politely have a couple bites and excuse myself. After a certain point, you just can’t take any more oily rice.

A couple times in Thies and once here at site I have had what I like to call the “Carbtastic Dinner.” It is oily spaghetti or macaroni noodles with french fries, potatoes, and a couple of chunks of meat, eaten WITH white bread as a spoon. Yes. I kid you not. Luckily, this dish is rare.
I am told that when the seasons change and my family’s garden starts to grow again that we will have salad and tomatoes. This is what I ate almost every night at my Thies family’s house and it is delicious (and oily…of course). It’s a huge plate of lettuce, tomato, and cucumber with french fries and meat sprinkled on top, and eaten with white bread as a spoon. Yum.

I guess I was thinking of Ghana when I was picturing all of the delicious produce that I would be eating in the Peace Corps. Thus far the only thing I have come across on a regular basis are bananas and apples (sometimes) and TONS of mangoes. I’m fine with mangoes though, and I can buy a HUGE bucket of them for a dollar. And I do. And I always bring them home to my family and they are so happy when I do and we sit around and stuff ourselves with the juiciest mangoes you’ve ever had until our arms and faces are sticky with mango juice.
There is also “monkeybread” which is this hard, citrusy, whitish fruit that comes from baobab trees and they use to make juice. You can eat it by sucking the dry fruit off of the seed, but it’s not my favorite. The juice is fantastic though.

Bisap juice: a sweet red juice made from bisap (hibiscus flowers). Add tons of sugar and freeze it in a plastic bag and it’s the best substitute for a popsicle you could get. The big bags cost about 1 cent and they are easy to find and the perfect thing on a hot day (aka. Everyday).

That’s pretty much it. Funny enough I don’t miss much American food yet. Maybe because it’s still the beginning, but for the moment I’m still pretty satisfied with my Senegalese diet.

Next time you all bite into a delicious salad covered in produce, or anything with whole grains, think of me, happily chomping away at mushy leaf and fish paste.

Bon appetite!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Settling In

Three weeks at site!
That is a landmark. And it’s amazing how different I feel now that I’m settling into a routine. Just over the past few days I have realized how much I have accomplished already in such a short amount of time. My pulaar is getting better, I am learning my way around my town, I have totally adjusted to the heat (this morning I was FREEZING cold and shivering under my sheet and it was 82 degrees!!), I am making friends, I recognize people, I am meeting important point people, my French is already back up near fluency (a wonderful surprise), I am networking and have been offered help by the mayor’s office to organize a huge meeting with the 40 presidents of social group/development/community organizations in town (and they’ve offered to arrange it just so that I can meet everyone. Here is hoping they all come), I now only need a half a bucket of water to shower with, I am learning to cook Senegalese dishes…and the list goes on.

Point is, I have always had a 2 week rule—that you have to give any new transition (college, study abroad programs, a new job, etc at least two weeks) and here I figured it would take at least 3 until I felt the same way…and I was right. 3 weeks and I have renewed energy and am confident that I am making progress and most importantly, I’m starting to feel at home.

I think part of this new comfort is due to the fact that I have been busy, but also that I have made a friend! A real Senegalese male friend (practically unheard of). This is incredibly difficult to do. He is an English teacher at the middle school and we spent a wonderful day recently. I ran into him randomly and he invited me for lunch and he and I and the other 3 teachers he boards with spent the day speaking about development in Senegal and the problems of corruption and laziness, and lack of education, and work ethic, and the desert and how hard life is up north compared to where they are all from and it was so beneficial to hear encouragement from Senegalese. They are the first people to acknowledge how hard it is what we PCVs are doing, and to thank me. To really thank me for being here and commending my efforts. We ate, drank tea, and watched a movie. Totally normally and there was not a single inappropriate comment about marriage, or taking them to the states or any of that. Just lots of laughter and stimulating conversations about life in Senegal.

I am comforted that I can find friends, and that yes, it IS hard, but it really does just take time to find one’s niche. I think that I am on my way. At least it feels good to start making connections.

Time is on my side…

When Scorpions Attack

I survived my very first scorpion encounter this week.

Looking back it was not nearly as terrifying as it felt at the time. I am happy that it is over with though and now I know what to expect…kind of. Let me paint you the picture. Get ready to laugh, as I’m going to write about it as dramatically as possible so that you all know how it felt.

It’s 10pm. We’ve just finished a yummy dinner of Haco (my favorite!--a mushy paste of leaves and fish poured over couscous) and I’ve already set up my foam pad and mosquito net outside in my douche. I’m all ready to settle in and get a good night’s sleep. So I go into my room after saying goodnight to my family, I turn on the light and there in the corner of my room I see it…my very first Senegalese scorpion. It’s about the length of my hand from middle finger to palm, it’s tail stinger thingy is pointed upwards ready to strike and its running all over the place. I freak out and grab a shoe, but it scrambles into the shadows.
(P.S. I’m not gonna lie. I’m pretty proud of myself for trying to kill it right away and for not running right back out of my room).

So I chase it all along the floor, around my bed, behind my trunk, and then I lose it. I cannot find it anywhere! So I call in my family. They can’t find it anywhere either. We move my bags, my bed, my shelves, my mat. It’s nowhere to be found. So they reassure me and say well, it must have gone away, just go to sleep and worry about it tomorrow. HA! Are you serious? Yeah right I’m going to sleep anywhere NEAR that thing. It is most certainly NOT gone. I know it. I mean, the damn things can’t climb walls and both of the doors were closed. There is no way it escaped.

Too embarassed to tell them that I’m afraid of sleeping until I kill it, I close my front door and get ready for bed, hoping that it will appear and that I will have the guts to take it on by myself. No such luck. So I convince myself that it is gone, and get into bed. But I had forgotten something in my room so I flip on the light and sure enough, I hear the sucker scampering about. At this point, I’m in my underwear, chacos, and headlamp, with a broom in one hand and a big heavy book in the other, climbing all over my bed and trunks and making a TON of noise moving furniture and then shreaking every time I think I see something move. I finally move my trunk and there it is! I screamed and my family came running. What a sight I must have been.

Of course the nearest teenage boy takes over and kills it with one swoop of a flimsy flip flop (I guess my 250 page health book was a bit overkill huh?). Then he holds up the corpse for all to see and they just laugh and laugh at me. Apparently, my nightmare scorpion is just an introduction into the horrors that await me. They could barely contain themselves and just asked me what I was going to do when the rains came and I started seeing the big black ones the size of my FOREARM!

Are you freaking kidding me? How do you say “first flight to America please” in Pulaar?

I think I’ll be the first Peace Corps volunteer to die of pure unbridled TERROR if I ever see a scorpion that big in my room. Truly.

It took me about 2 hours to calm down after that. I called my mom in America for some sympathy and sent out a mass text message to fellow volunteers just to make myself feel better.

Now, I’m not afraid of them because they’re ugly or because they’re bugs. I can handle bugs. Lizards-no problem. Even mice aren’t that bad. And as you all know, I’ve gotten over my fear of cockroaches. Common variety creepy crawlies just don’t bother me anymore.

But scorpions are different.

I’m afraid of scorpions because they sting and hurt like hell AND if they’re the right variety, you’re on the first ‘alham’ to Dakar for medical treatment. There is a recent horror story about one volunteer who was stung and waited 3 days to tell anyone and his arm was swollen so badly he couldn’t even move it. Great. Good thing I’m 2 days from Dakar and Peace Corps medical officers.

So much for looking forward to the rainy season. Give me 120 degree heat with wind and sand storms over a scorpion infestation ANY DAY!

Maybe Peace Corps will support a secondary “Scorpion Eradication Day” project?

Unexpected Patriotism

I’ve been meaning to write this entry ever since I arrived in country. A recent letter from a friend reminded me of it. Here goes:

When I first traveled abroad to a “developing country” (Peru) by myself, I came back and was desperately depressed, embarrassed really, at the abundance, the luxury, the wealth, the waste, the ease of my life in the states. I felt lost, spoiled, confused, frustrated, angry at my ‘culture.’ This was probably exacerbated by the fact that I returned from working in a shantytown in Lima, to taking a summer Macro Econ course at a huge university. Nevertheless, the experience was life changing and helped set me on the ‘development’ path that I am on today. Though I have traveled to other ‘developing countries’ since then and never had that same reaction, this time I anticipated wanting to reject where I come from, and the privilege and the abundance that I have been so fortunate to live with my whole life.

But that is not the case at all.

Since I have been in Senegal, I have appreciated “home” more than ever. Not out of a longing for its comforts, or luxuries, but out of total awe and appreciation for how efficient, easy, and privileged my life is. I have never been prouder to tell people that I am from the states. And why shouldn’t I be? My life is tremendous. I have never wanted for anything, or felt unsafe, or insecure, or unloved, or not cared for. Not once. And I realize that all Americans do not universally feel this. But it is my own experience. It is all that I can speak to.

Maybe my new sense of patriotism (would prefer a different word but none comes to mind) has something to do with the fact that everyone here wants to go to the states. Their awe of home is perhaps infectious?

I am at ease because I no longer feel like I have to ‘like’ or choose one culture over another. During my own travels, I have often felt like Americans are taught to feel ashamed when we travel abroad, to reject our culture, and be constantly bombarded by all of the bad things our ‘country’ does. (I do think that this has become more prominent since 9/11 and the subsequent bombing of Afghanistan and since the war in Iraq).

But this idea is something that a dear friend of mine and I have discussed at length. And she has always told me…
“Cait, you know that you are well traveled when you stop criticizing where you come from and stop romanticizing what is ‘new’ because it is ‘poor’ and ‘simple’ and you start appreciating how lucky you are and just noticing differences rather than make judgments.”
I guess she never said that exactly in those words, but this is the essence of a conversation that we have thrown back and forth for years. And it’s always been in the back of my mind. Most recently in the foreground.

And how right she is! It is useless (maybe even harmful?) to make sweeping generalizations about cultures, populations, regions of the world, especially without ever really ever living in those places.

Perhaps an example will help me explain myself.

I have often heard people criticize the states or ‘Western cultures’ for our obsession with individualism and ‘getting ahead.’ Saying that we have no sense of community and have lost the ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ mentality. That ‘poorer’ cultures in developing countries are in some way superior because family comes first and grandparents, children, adults, neighbors, cousins, and random strangers all live together and look out for one another. And I’m sure that there have been volumes of anthropologic (is that a word?) texts written on the subject. But I’m going to come out and flat out disagree with that statement.

And here is why…

I grew up in a place where the entire community comes out for markets, and where couples, families, and friends walk together everyday around a greenbelt, and neighbors cook for other neighbors when there are deaths, or births, or moves, or just because. And there are block parties, and dinner parties all the time, and babysitters from down the street, and my friends and I sit around and massage each other, and girls braid each other’s hair at school assemblies. And you can’t ever go into town without running into someone you know. And we have more adoptions than any other country in the world (talk about a global community raising a child), and the list goes on….

And sure enough, usually in big cities people ‘plug in.’ We all do it. We need that privacy, that alone time, but let’s not judge that as the root cause of all evil. And isn’t it ultimately just to stay MORE connected to one another? I mean it’s nearly impossible not to be tracked down if you don’t want to be. Emails and wireless internet everywhere, pagers, cell phones, text messaging, instant messaging etc. It is merely a different form of connecting/community I think. And to tell you the truth, I have been hard-pressed to find a single Senegalese (and I’ve asked many of them) who would not live in their own house with their own family given the choice.

I want to throw out this example. When I was in Peru, I worked in a HUGE shantytown. It was unique because of its impressive level of organization and SUPER community-oriented approach to development. BUT, one of its biggest problems was that the elderly people were being cast aside—with no money. Family members were not caring for them, and blatantly letting them starve to death alone in rundown shacks! I mean for such an ‘ideal’ community, that did not seem very inclusive at all.

And what about the fact that in Senegal, and in many African populations actually, women consistently give birth ALONE. In their huts, isolated and not cared for or cooed or coached through the most emotionally and physically uplifting/terrifying day(s) of their lives? Whereas in the states, often there are too MANY people in the delivery room and too MANY people waiting outside to greet the new addition to the family.

I am making these comparisons to prove a point. That they are endless and really pretty useless.

I do not mean for this entry to be a comparison of good and bad, but a reflection on the importance of paying attention to the details.

And what a privilege it is to even be able to critique one’s own country or culture. To even know that there ARE other people and cultures, and places out there to dream about and visit and experience. Isn’t that pretty amazing in and of itself?

I guess the more you live and learn, and especially the more you travel, the more difficult it is, and the less useful it becomes to make generalizations, or to take any one ‘side’ over another.

I am proud of where I come from. Every place I go, I am appreciative of the good, and wary of the bad.

And I do not feel guilty for having so much. No. I feel extremely privileged. I feel lucky every second of every day here. Lucky…and appreciative, for all of the opportunities and support that I have received throughout my life.

A day in the Life

As promised, this blog entry can give you all a glimpse into my ‘work’ as a PCV during the 3 month Community Entry Phase. When we’re not actually supposed to be ‘working,’ but assessing the needs of our community.

Wake up and greet the fam.
Yoga 1 hour (blissful exercise and meditation).
Bucket bath
Sweep room (sand everywhere)
Breakfast (while listening to the BBC).

Anywhere from 9:30am-1pm
This includes: greeting people, going to the school and speaking with teachers, greeting people at the Health post, going to the mayor’s office to track down various lists of MORE people to greet, working on scholarship interviews for a PC girls scholarship program, meeting with my counterpart, running errands (market, post office etc.).

Lunch with the fam.

Retreat to my room for some solo/sweaty time. It’s too hot to do anything. No one is out or at work. No one.
Update blog entries
Log my greetings and work in my daily work journal
Study Pulaar!
Drink tea with fam/practice Pulaar.
Paperwork: Look over health binder for projects and required assessments to do before Go over health binder and training binder and make lists of things to do before IST (community maps, community entry surveys, PC forms etc). Do them!
Text other PCVs (I have taken it upon myself to be the morale booster and check in on everyone with cell phone reception).
Set work goals for tomorrow.

5-Dark (8pmish)
Go out (errands, more greetings, meetings with people, greet neighbors, wander around town and get to know new routes and paths).
‘General maintenance’ (Filling up on water, filtering water, sweeping room (more sand), doing laundry, bucket bath, sometimes phone calls with family and friends etc).
Hang out with fam/practice pulaar/wait for dinner/help cook (kind of).
Help sisters and their friends with homework/English especially

9:30 pm

Bedtime! (aka. Sweat my butt off until I finally fall asleep).

Things I do weekly:
Go into the next town over (23k away) to spend the day with other volunteers and satisfy all internet/banking needs. (Update the blog!)
Loumo! (Weekly market).
Vaccination Day (I like to stop by and visit with women sitting around, so that they know my face. The gears are turning regarding how to productively use that idle sitting and waiting time with a captive audience of concerned women!)
Laundry (takes forever. Literally the better half of a day)

Allowed 4 days per month free at the regional house to decompress, be with other volunteers, watch movies, cook ‘American’ food etc. It takes me 2 days (1 on each end) to even get there though! That is an adventure in and of itself.

It’s such a strange existence that even when you aren’t “working” everything you do is still work! Living in a new culture, speaking a new language, the climate, everything is hard and exhausting, and rewarding all at the same time. And it is all work.