Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sad news

written Thursday, 24 May 2007



My (real American) brother called me yesterday morning to tell me that my grandpa passed away on Sunday, and the funeral was yesterday (Wednesday).


The news wasn't unexpected, but it is hard to be so far away from family and missing out on an important event like this.


I told my village family at breakfast what had happened, but instead of comforting me, they just kept telling me to stop crying, that this is part of life and you must accept it.   (I had heard that you are not supposed to cry at funerals here, but I didn't know they would try to enforce that rule on me, for my own family members).   I wasn't in the mood to be trying to adapt culturally right then, so I just told them I was going to Tamba so I could be in touch with my family.


I rode my bike about 40 km to Missira, a bigger town where another volunteer lives, and ate bean sandwiches and spent the hottest part of the day resting in his hut.   Then we went to the road and waited for an Alham bus, which I rode for the first time by myself.  It was really easy - we just waved it down, they tossed my bike on top, and I squeezed in.   The price was fixed - 500 CFA (about $1) for the ride to Tamba, plus another 200 CFA for my bike.


In Tamba I came straight to the Peace Corps regional house, where I am trying to relax with some other volunteers who are here and trying not to be mad at my villagers for the way they responded to my news.
Please send good thoughts to my mom and the rest of our family.

Village School

written Tuesday, 22 May 2007



I was invited to go to the village school this morning to observe, so I went for about three hours and sat in on a class.   The school is a two-room concrete building with a metal roof (it gets hot in there!).  There are two classes, one for kids about 7-10 years old, and one for kids about 10-14 years old.  Normally there are two teachers, one for each class, but apparently one of the teachers has been sick for several months, so right now the other teacher is teaching both classes, giving one class an assignment to work on while he goes to the other class.


I sat in on the older kids' class, where they were learning French and algebra.  The kids had one textbook to read from (I think it was for French), but mainly the teacher wrote questions and problem on the chalkboard for the kids to copy down and work on.


I asked the teacher if the students learn other subjects as well, such as history and science, and he said yes, but I got the feeling that the answer is really no, or at least that there is not much emphasis put on those subjects.


But it seems that Western education isn't valued very much here.  Most kids go to primary school, but most girls drop out in their early teens to help out at home or to get married, and boys only go for a few years longer.   I tried asking one of my brothers, who is about 13, what he wants to be when he grows up, but he just answered as all the men and boys I've talked to here have - he wants to go to America.  I tried asking him what sort of job he would want to do if he could go to America, or what he will do if he can't make it to the US, but he didn't have any answers.   I think that is a big problem herer - everyone wants to emigrate, and no one has a backup plan (besides subsistence farming).


written Monday, 21 May 2007



Peace Corps advised us to set our boundaries with villagers (such as not letting people into our huts, which was recommended for a variety of security reasons) early, because it is easier to set rules at the beginning than to try to change them later on.   This is easier said than done, though, when you are just meeting people and trying to make a good impression and be culturally sensitive.


So the first night here, because I didn't want to seem unfriendly by saying no, I ended up with a kid sleeping in my bed with me, and her whole family supervising us going to bed. (I had to go to bed right then, while they were watching.   I didn't even get to brush my teeth!)


I wrote earlier about how hard it has been for me not getting any time to myself during the day to take a break from trying to be super friendly and culturally sensitive and trying to communicate in a language I barely know.   I think my daytime schedule will get better naturally as time goes on, as I become less of a novelty/special guest and become more comfortable living here.   But I decided that having people sleeping with me is where I'm going to have to put my foot down, because I just won't be able to survive here if I can't at least have some time alone at night.


My host sister, who is about my age, has been hinting or even outright asking for the last few nights if she could sleep with me (probably because there I have a nice mattress and there would be just the two of us sleeping on it, instead of six people), and I had been avoiding it by pretending not to understand what she was saying and waiting til she wasn't around for a few minutes to go back to my hut and go to bed.  


Last night at dinner she asked again if she could sleep with me, and I decided that I would just have to deal with it directly, because I don't want to be stressing about how to avoid this for the next two years.   So when she asked me this time, I just flat-out said no.  She said, "what? you said no?" like she couldn't believe it, or I must not have understood the question.   But I stuck to my decision and said, "That's right, I said no.  I like to sleep alone."  My other sister said "good for you", and then the subject was dropped, and I was able to go to bed in peace.


So I feel proud of myself for setting one boundary at least, and it turned out not to be so hard to say no after all.   Now I just have to figure out how to regain some control over the rest of my life....

Banana Plantation

written Monday, 21 May 2007



There is a banana plantation about a kilometer from my village, where many of the village men work.  It also attracts migrant workers from all over Senegal and neighboring countries.  One of my little brothers took me to visit it yesterday, and then after we got back I went to ask one of the village men some questions about it.


Here is what I learned:


The people who work in the plantatiion are paid 35% of the selling price of every ton of bananas that comes out of their plot on the plantation (the area they are responsible for planing, watering, picking, etc.).   The other 65% of the profits go to the owner, who has to cover costs like fuel for the irrigation pumps.  Before harvest time comes, the owner advances or loans money out of the expected sales to the workers, so that they have income throughout the year so they can buy food, etc.   Then at harvest time when the bananas are sold the workers are paid the remainder of their share of the profits, which the man I was talking to said would usually be several hundred dollars, which is quite a lot of money in this part of the world.


The bananas are sold to middlemen, who re-sell them throughout Senegal and neighboring countries such as The Gambia, Guinea, and Mali.


The bananas are about half the size of normal American bananas, and when they are ripe their skins are green and starting to turn black.   They aren't as sweet as American bananas, but they still make a good snack eaten raw.  My family has also cut them up and fried them a few times (and last night added them to a sort of macaroni salad, which was reeally good); when they're cooked, they somehow transform into tasting like potatoes, which is weird but good.


written Sunday, 20 May 2007



The hardest thing about living here, for me, is the lack of privacy and space.  Before moving to the village, Peace Corps warned us that wee might have a hard time finding things to do with our time at first, and they advised us to avoid spending too much time alone in our huts, reading or whatever.   So I had mentally prepared myself for having lots of free time to fill and to force myself to go out of my hut and be social.  So I wasn't prepared at all for having no time for myself and no privacy.


From breakfast at 7:00 am until bedtime I am with my family or my counterpart or surrounded by kids who are fascinated by the new toubab.   If I make an excuse to go back to my hut (I need to get water/go to the bathroom/take a nap/etc.), usually less than ten minutes go by before someone, or more likely ten people, come over to see what I'm up to or to look at my toubab stuff or to just hang out.


I am glad that the people here have been so friendly and welcoming and looking out for me, but it is stressful not getting any time to myself or being able to make my own schedule.   I hope I can get used to never being alone, or else that the villagers get used to me being here and don't feel the need to peek in my windows at all hours of the day (or just walk straight into my hut) to see what I'm up to.   Otherwise, I'm just not sure how I'll survive here.


written Sunday, 20 May 2007



Last night was thet first rain of the rainy season, which officially begins in June and lasts til October.   I had teh idea before I came here that during the rainy season it would be pouring buckets all the time, but as it turns out, rainy season is just the time of year when it rains occasionally, compared to the rest of the year when it doesn't rain at all.


It was windy and lightning for quite a while before it started raining, so I had time to bring my mattress in from outside.   I was lazy and didn't bring in my mosquito net though, so now it is soaked.  I am leaving it hanging up for now, hoping that the sun will come out and dry it.   I also forgot about my toilet paper last night, which was sitting on the fence around my latrine, so now it is ruined and I will have to use the bathroom African-style, using a cup of water to rinse off with.


I had gotten quite used to not having to think about the weather, leaving things outside overnight or making plans without thinking about what the weather might be like, but I guess I'll have to start thinking about the possibility of rain now.


written Sunday, 20 May 2007



I spoke too soon about eating the same thing every day.  Last night there were beans in the sauce with the millet.   Such a treat!


There is a stigma against beans in Senegal - they say that beans are for poor people (rich people eat meat for protein).   If you want to insult or tease someone, you can call them a bean eater.  The unfortunate effect of this stigma is that many people won't eat beans, even if they are too poor to eat meat.    I think the stigma is stronger in the north of the country, though.  Anyway I am glad that my family eats beans.


written Saturday, 19 May 2007

I'm not going to write about what I eat here anymore, unless it changes, because it seems that it is always going to be the same: millet porridge for breakfast, rice with peanut sauce for lunch, and millet with peanut sauce for dinner, with the occasional mango or banana for a snack.


written Friday, 18 May 2007



Yesterday before dinner my counterpart took me around the village to introduce me to the villagers.  We went to 15 or 20 compounds, where I had to speak a combination of: Jaxanke, Mandinka, French, Wolof, Pulaar, and Serrer (okay, I don't know any Serrer at all, so at the Serrer house I just smiled while Mamadou talked).   I think I improved my greeting skills a lot during the couple of hours we were out, and hopefully made a good first impression with the villagers.  I definitely need to learn some more local languages, though!

What I've been up to

written Thursday, 17 May 2007



Yesterday I hung around with my host family for a while after dinner (dry, sandy millet, but it actually wasn't bad), so my five-year-old jailer was asleep before I went back to my hut, which saved me from having to refuse to let her sleep with me.


I got up at 5:30 this morning, when the muezzin started (the mosque is right across from my hut) so that I would be sure to have some time to myself before my jailers showed up.   Which they did, promptly at 7:00, to tell me to come eat breakfast (millet porridge again - it will probably be that every single day).  That hour and a half of free time really helped me, so today I'm not feeling like I'm in prison anymore and I'm just enjoying myself.


After brerakfast my counterpart Mamadou came to get me, and we biked to Dialacoto, a small town about 10 km away, where we greeted my other counterpart at the health post there and then went to meet the gendarmes (regional police, kind of like a sheriff or state police) and the commisariat rurale (I have no idea what they do, but apparently they're important).   I was also supposed to meet the Dialacoto village chief, but apparently he's out of town, so I'll have to try to meet him next time I go to Dialacoto.   Anyway, everyone gave the standard speeches to welcome me and wish me a good stay in Senegal, and the gendarmes promised to look out for me and protect me from any potential bad guys.


After greeting everyone we headed back to my village, and along the way we passed through a village where Mamadou said my host family used to live; they moved to the village where they're living now because there wasn't enough land to cultivate in the first village.   There was a funeral going on in the village as we passed through; Mamadou said it was a relative of my host family's (and therefore my relative) and they were holding the ceremony for the seventh day after the death (funeral ceremonies are held the first day after a death, the third day, the seventh day, and I forget what after that, up to 40 days).   So we stopped in the village a while to show respect, and we gave a little money to the family because that is the custom - because they have to provide food for all the people who show up and who can stay for as long as they want during the 40 days of mourning.   I gave 1000 francs, which is about $2.


Back at home, I had lunch with my family (rice with "maffe" sauce, and a little piece of meat).   When I first got here, my family gave me a spoon to eat with since I was a special guest, but now apparently that period is over, so I'm supposed to start eating with my hands like everyone else.   Which is fine with me, but it's a lot harder than you might think - try eating rice with your hands sometime, and see how much ends up in your mouth and how much on the floor.  Anyway, so I ate lunch with my hands, with my host sisters laughing at me and trying to show me how to scoop up the rice and squish it into a ball so it's easier to get in your mouth.


After lunch I managed to wash some clothes - in a bucket, by hand, but I left them to soak in the soapy water overnight, so they came out pretty clean in spite of my bad clothes-washing skills.   Then one of my host brothers came to get me to teach me some Jaxanke - I think it's really cute how they're always asking me where my notebook is so I can write things down.


Speaking of Jaxanke, here is the actual language situation in my village: my host family speaks Jaxanke, as do a lot of other people, and then a bunch of people speak Pulaar.   I don't know enough people here yet to have a feel for the proportions of who speaks what.  Some people also speak Mandinka, but it's definitely a minority language.   So it looks like I'll mainly be learning Jaxanke and Pulaar from now on.

Some things I will miss

written Thursday, 17 May 2007



Some things I can already tell I will really miss when I leave here:


  • sleeping outside under the stars
  • spending the morning biking through the bush and having that count as part of my job
  • showering (okay, bucket bathing) outside - hot sun, cool water, and pretty birds in the trees to look at are a really great combination
  • bean sandwiches on village bread - I tried the British style beans on toast once and that was awful, but Senegalese bean sandwiches on chewy village bread are amazing.
  • kinkelibe tea - it's just delicious


written Wednesday, 16 May 2007


Training ended last Thursday, then Friday we had a free day to pack, and Saturday we went to Dakar for the swearing in ceremony, which was conducted jointly with the Japanese and Korean versions of Peace Corps.   The swearing in ceremony itself was pretty boring, but it was fun seeing everyone dressed up in their grand boubous and fancy complets, and they had yummy hors d'ouvres afterwards - mini cheeseburgers, eggrolls, sushi... We all stuffed ourselves!


Right after the ceremony was over, I went back to Thies to hang out with my family for a little bit and say good-bye.   My host mom gave me cups, so that I would have something to drink out of when I got to the village.  I thought it was incredibly generous, given that I'm not sure they even have enough cups to have one per person.


Sunday we all woke up at about 5 am to load up the "sept places" (stationwagons) we had hired to take us to our regions.   I was a little scared at how rickety the sept places seemed at first - at one point we stopped because a piece of the car had fallen off and the driver wanted to try to stick it back on - but after a while the car situation just seemed funny to me.   I was sitting in the row behind the driver, and all our stuff was piled behind me.  Every time the driver braked, the stuff would shift forward and push the seat back forward so that it forced us to lean over.   At first we would push it back so we could be leaning back comfortably, but since it kept coming forward again eventually we pretty much gave up and rode leaning forward the whole way.


We spent Sunday night at the Peace Corps regional house in Tambacounda, and then Monday the PCVs who have already been here for a while helped us go shopping for things we would need for our huts. (I got: a mattress, some buckets, a trunk, rope, some rubber strips for tying things on the back of my bike, a gas stove, a pot, and a teakettle so I can have my tea once in a while when it isnt too hot).


Yesterday (Tuesday) was finally the big day - installation (that's what Peace Corps calls moving into the village).   First one of the Peace Corps staff drove us around to meet some government people in Tambacounda, and then finally we were off to our villages.  I was the third (and last) to get installed out of the group in my car, so I got to see the other two volunteers get installed.   The second person to get installed is the first volunteer her village has ever had, so when we drove up to her village the whole village was out to welcome her, with some boys doing some sort of traditional dance and the village chief giving a speech.   (I took pictures of the dancers, which I'll try to post).  It was really touching that the village was so excited to have her come, but I also found it a little intimidating - people here seem to think that we can do so much for them, and I am afraid that they will be disappointed when they discover that we can't solve every problem in two years.


Finally it was my turn.  I am the second volunteer (or maybe third, I think there may have been someone here a long time ago), so no big ceremony for me, which was fine with me.   But several old men, who I presume are the village elders, were there to greet me, and some women were there as well, although they stood kind of far away.   They told me my village name will be Khadija Tanjian (which I think is really pretty).  They also said they're going to have a baptism ceremony for me to officially name me, but I'm not sure if they were serious.   Then they said a prayer for me, which I thought was really nice.


After all the official stuff was over, I finally got to check out my hut.  It is a palace!   What qualifies a hut as a palace, you ask?  It has two rooms - a "living room" and a bedroom, screen doors, a nice backyard area which will be nice for relaxing in, and the most advanced, sophisticated kind of latrine.   What makes a latrine sophisticated, you wonder?  Well, instead of just being a hole in the ground, it has a tall pole covered with mesh next to the hole that goes down into the latrine, which is supposed to catch flies and vent bad odors away.


After unpacking for a little bit, I went over to my family's compound for dinner.  We had "futoo", which was millet with some kind of peanut sauce.   It wasn't bad, but there was definitely a little sand mixed in.  After dinner I sat around with the family for a little bit, and then I said I was tired and going to bed.   My sister insisted on walking me over to my hut since it was dark out, and about five little kids tagged along.  I hadn't unpacked my sheets and made my bed yet, so she insisted on helping me make my bed, and then took my mattress outside to my little backyard, because it's too hot to sleep inside. Then she said something like, hey, you've got a huge bed, how about letting Khadija (my five-year-old niece or cousin or something) sleep with you?   So somehow I ended up with a kid sleeping in bed with me.  It wasn't bad, except that I hadn't planned to go to bed right that minute - I was going to stay up and unpack and write letters and read a little bit.   But my sister wouldn't leave til I was in the bed with Khadija, so finally I gave up and just went to bed.  I think tonight I'm going to try saying that I need to go study or something, and see how that works out.  


I don't remember if I mentioned this when I wrote about the village I visited when I first got to Senegal, but showering outside is really nice - especially when the water is cool and the sun is hot.   And sleeping outside is really nice too - without electricity, you can see about a million stars.  Contrary to what you might expect though, it's really loud here at night, which (at least until I get used to it) makes it really difficult to sleep.   I thought I had it bad in D.C. with all the traffic and sirens, but I think I prefer the sirens to the donkey sounds, because the noise they make sounds like they're in incredible pain and about to die.


Anyway, after not very much sleep last night, I got up at about 6 am (I figured getting up early was my best chance to get some time by myself - but no such luck, my little shadow/spy Khadija followed me around the whole time, until I finally threw her out so I could use the bathroom.


After breakfast ("monoo" - millet porridge - not bad) my counterpart, who is a health education volunteer from the village, came to get me, and we went on a really nice 10 kilometer bike ride on a dirt road through the bush to a village a few towns over where they were holding the "lumoo", the weekly market.  He helped me buy some stuff I needed (soap, a curtain for my front door which doesn't have a screen door) and some food to give to my family, and then we rode back home.  


During the bike ride I noticed that there were a lot of trees with raggedy clothes up in them.  I asked Mamadou, my counterpart, if they were being hung up to dry, but he said no, they are old clothes that are being thrown away; old clothes must be thrown into trees because of a taboo, he said, but he couldn't really explain it to me other than to say that it is better for the clothes to go up than down.


Back in the village it was lunch time with the family (rice with peanut sauce and a little fish, no vegetables).   After lunch I tried to get away for a while by myself by telling them I was going to go take a nap, but it didn't work very well because apparently it's not rude at all to come up and stare at people (or at least toubabs) through their windows, so they caught me not sleeping and trying to do other things instead (like write for my blog!), so then I got called to go hang out with the family some more.


I was warned before I got "installed" that I would probably have a lot of free time and finding things to do to fill it would be a challenge.   So far, though, that hasn't happened.  I feel a little like I'm in prison, with people making my schedule for me and a troop of kids guarding me all the time.   I'm going to just say no to having a kid sleep with me tonight, and hopefully tomorrow will go a little better.  My counterpart says he's going to take me to Dialacoto, a town about 8 kilometers away, where the health post I am associated with is located, so I can greet my other counterpart who works there.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I'm off to my village!

I passed my language test, and today is the last day of training. Tomorrow we have the day free to pack and relax a bit, and then Saturday we go to Dakar for a swearing-in ceremony. Back to Thies Saturday afternoon/evening, and early Sunday morning we start traveling to our villages. I will just travel to Tambacounda on Sunday (which is an all-day trip), so on Monday I can open a bank account there and go shopping for some basic supplies for my hut. Then Tuesday it's off to my village! (I'm a little scared, but also excited).

After Sunday I will only be able to use internet, send/receive mail, and do pretty much anything else besides eat, sleep, pound millet, and pull water from the well, when I can travel into town 70 km away. So my posts will probably become less frequent. But don't worry, I am not going to disappear completely!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Feelings and Jelly Beans

written Monday, 7 April 2007


Recently I received an email from a friend who said she's enjoyed reading my blog, but I don't really write about how I'm feeling on it.   So how am I feeling?


Of course life here has its ups and downs, just like life anywhere.  But overall I'm having a great time and really enjoying all the new experiences.   I have my moments of wondering what I'm doing here, whether I'm doing anything worthwhile or whether it's just a giant vacation for me (and if so, where is the pampering? I miss showers!), but mostly I'm really glad I came here.   Even if I don't manage to do anything useful for anyone in Senegal,  I think I am really learning a lot which will help me to be a better and hopefully wiser person in the future.


One thing that I have already noticed changing in my outlook is that I have great respect for people here.   Working in the field of humanitarian assistance, which is what I was doing before I came here, it is easy to see people in developing countries as simply recipients of assistance, people to be pitied.   And I think many of us in America tend to view women in Muslim countries as oppressed because of the different gender roles here and practices such as polygamy and female circumcision/genital cutting.


But I have found that the people here, while they may not have much, are resourceful and take care of themselves, and while they appreciate assistance, they don't want pity.   And I haven't met a woman yet who says she feels oppressed by gender roles and cultural practices, but I have spoken to many who not only support but take pride in their place in society.


So I am learning.  Some days are really hard, and I am just desperate for a real shower and some American food and to be in my own little apartment where I don't have to try to fit into anyone else's culture or lifestyle, but mostly I am really happy to be having this experience.


Today I received a package from a good friend and a girl I just met briefly.  She wrote a note that said she has been reading my blog, and wanted to do something to thank me for the work I am doing here.   I don't think I deserve such compliments at all, but it's very encouraging and motivating to know that people back home, even people I don't know very well, are rooting for me and think I am doing something good here. (Thanks, C!   PS: I gave one of the bags of jelly beans to my family, and they LOVED them.  My mom poured them out on a plate, and then they all just looked at them and ooh'ed and aah'ed at the pretty colors, and wouldn't even eat them until I took a picture of my mom with the plate of jellybeans, which I promised to give her a copy of.   And then they gobbled them up, and gave me high 5's, saying 'way to go, Fatou' (or its equivalent in Mandinka, anyway).  I spent about half the day debating with myself whether I could stand to share my precious toubab food, but seeing how much they enjoyed it was definitely more wonderful than eating them myself.)


So, I'm learning.  Toubab food will always be very much appreciated though!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Counterpart Workshop

written Saturday, 5 May 2007

Thursday and Friday this week we had a "counterpart workshop" where the people we will be working with in our villages came to Thies to learn about Peace Corps and how to work with us volunteers.

I have two counterparts, an "Infirmier Chef de Poste" (nurse head of the regional health post in the nearest town), and a village "relais", who is a volunteer with some basic health training who does health education for his village.

Of course it was very exciting (and also a little nerve-wracking) to meet people from my village. I wore my Senegalese "complets" both days to try to make a good impression, and I was lucky that both of them speak French, so we were able to communicate without too much trouble.

I got a few questions answered about my village (yes, there is cell phone coverage, but it's Tigo, the Senegalese company, instead of Orange, the French company, and apparently reception is pretty sporadic. They said Orange is supposed to be providing service "soon", though, whatever "soon" means to a Senegalese), but most of our time was taken up with official workshop sessions, so we didn't get to talk too much. I am pretty content to find out what it's like when I get there though, rather than having someone tell me all about it ahead of time. It will be more exciting this way.

But it's reassuring at least to know that there will be one person I know in the village, if only a little bit, as the Peace Corps car is driving away and leaving me there all alone.

Just over a week to go til I move to the village! (assuming I pass my language test on Tuesday).


written Saturday, 5 May 2007

I put off writing about last Monday's trip to Dakar because it left me in such a bad mood that I needed time to cool off before I could write fairly about it.

I don't want to go into a lot of details here, but will just say that bureaucracy is an incredibly frustrating thing. And to top off my frustration in that direction, the pizza which I had been looking forward to for days was the worst pizza I've ever had in my life, and really it can't even be described as pizza. It was just ground meat that tasted like bad meatloaf sitting on bread that was like pita bread, with ketchup and mustard to pour on top of it. No tomato sauce, no cheese. So let's just call it meatloaf on pita. And yes, I ate it because I was starving (since I had made sure not to eat too much breakfast so I would be hungry for the wonderful pizza I was expecting).

To be fair and balance out my complaints about bureaucracy, though, I must report that my petition for women's bikes was responded to positively. Peace Corps is ordering women's seats which anyone who was issued a man's bicycle can request, and future volunteers will be offered women's bicycles.

Also on a positive note, at the end of our long bureaucratic day in Dakar, Peace Corps had the drivers stop off at a French pastry shop and a toubab supermarket before we left Dakar. I won't tell on the other volunteers, but will just report on myself: I ate a "pain au chocolate" (basically a croissant with chocolate in it), a custard-filled donut (best donut of my life), a handful of imitation Pringle's chips, a few bites of ice cream, some gummy worm type things, and probably a few other things that I have forgotten by now, all within about an hour. I don't regret it at all, although I will (somewhat delicately) say that I paid for my unaccustomed junk food splurging with stomach problems for about four days. Totally worth it, though.


Someone has apparently signed me up for the Christian Science Monitor! I've gotten two issues so far! I'm in heaven! (and the other volunteers are jealous, but I'm being nice and sharing).

Thanks, whoever you are!

And who are you?

And if they're going to keep coming, please change the subscription to my new address!!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Today in training we had a session about sexual health (different sessions for the men and women).  In the women's session the issue of Peace Corps not supplying or paying for tampons or other sanitary supplies came up, with us volunteers of course being frustrated because they are extremely expensive and hard to get here, and it really cuts into our budgets if we have to use our small allowances (which are no bigger than the men's allowances) to buy them.  The official Peace Corps response was that we could get our families to ship us supplies from the US, but nobody felt that this was much of a solution since Peace Corps is supposed to provide for all our health care and other needs while we are over here.
So...we are thinking of starting a petition, writing some letters, etc.  I think I'm going to get a name for myself as a unionizer/activist, but I'm okay with that.  Peace Corps could really use some official means for volunteers to bring up concerns as a group with staff, headquarters, and the larger government.
We'll see what happens. 


written Wednesday, 2 April 2007



I finally learned how money works here.  I had learned before that when speaking in local languages such as Wolof or Mandinka, that the numbers don't correspond to money amounts.   For example, the word that means "twenty" means a different amount if you're talking about money.  Up til now, what the "money number" was was a complete mystery to me.  


So here's how it works: it's all based on the "dasato", the five-franc coin, (which is worth about one cent in American money).   Five francs is called "one dasato"; twenty-five francs is called "5 dasatos"; one hundred francs is "twenty dasatos"; and so on.  


Seems simple - just multiply everything times five.  It gets a little more confusing though, because people don't always say "dasatos".   So if you're trying to buy something, and you ask how much it costs, the vendor might say "five".  But that doesn't mean five francs.   That would be too easy.  It means five dasatos, which equals twenty-five francs.


Just when I was starting to get a little faster at being able to figure out what number it is when someone says "tan saaba nin kilin", they throw in this whole monkey wrench of multiplying money times five.   I am going to have to get better at math.  But I guess it keeps life interesting.

My atrophying left hand

My atrophying left hand

written Sunday, 29 April 2007


I was warned before I came to Senegal that I would not be allowed to do a lot of things with my left hand, including eating and handing things to people, because the left hand is considered dirty (because it is the hand you use in the bathroom, as a substitute for toilet paper).  


I was afraid, since I am left handed, I would be constantly forgetting and offending people by using my left hand, but as it turns out, I made myself so paranoid about doing the wrong thing that I hardly use my left hand for anything anymore (except writing, which I just can't do with my right hand).   Even when I am with other Americans and I consciously tell myself that I can use my left hand, I can hardly bring myself to do it.


I am a little afraid that my left arm is going to atrophy and fall off from lack of use.

The President Abdoulaye Wade music video

The Abdoulaye Wade music video

written Sunday, 29 April 2007


Yesterday I saw the most hilarious example yet of African "big man" politics - the President Abdoulaye Wade music video.   It featured two girls riding down the highway in Dakar in a covertible or jeep or something, and singing about how great "grandfather Abdoulaye" is - that he is bringing Senegal into the future, building roads, creating jobs, etc.   Every few seconds they would cut to one of the standard photos of Wade, where he has his arms raised in a victory pose.


Should the President Bush tribute music video be next?

So cute

So cute

written Sunday, 29 April 2007


Today I was out walking around town with some friends and we came across a very cute lost baby goat, bleating for its mother.   One of my friends baa'ed back at it because it was so cute.  I guess she did a good goat impression, because the baby goat decided she was its mother and followed us halfway to town, until we took evasive measures (we wanted it to stay in its neighborhood so if its mother was around she might find it).