Friday, November 07, 2008

Election reactions

I've been in Dakar this week for meetings, so Tuesday night I was able to go to an expat election party in town.  I wanted to stay up all night and watch the election, but I just didn't make it.  (Plus I had an important meeting the next day I didn't want to be too exhausted for).
So I went to bed around 2:30 am, by which time Obama was significantly ahead, but it still wasn't a sure thing.  I happened to wake up sometime between 4:00 and 5:00, so I quickly checked the computer, saw that Obama won, thought "Yay!", and went back to sleep.
Wednesday morning I decided not to change out of my Obama t-shirt (given to me by a PCV who got a couple while on vacation in America) because I was just too happy.  So walking around the neighborhood to get breakfast and do some errands I attracted a lot of "congratulations!" and "good job!" type comments from Senegalese, plus a lot of typical "give me your shirt!" comments, which I am choosing to interpret as "I like Obama too".
I only met one dissenter, a security guard at the Peace Corps office who I am friends with.  He congratulated me, but said he supported McCain.  When I asked him why, his answer was basically that he likes to root for the underdog.
Reactions from the village coming next week (or at least, as soon after next week as I can get back to the internet).

Financial crisis in Senegal

NPR has a story about how the global financial crisis is affecting Senegal.  I haven't managed to listen to it yet (technical issues), but it's NPR, so I'm sure it's good.

Article about sexual exploitation in African schools

Here is a good article from the UN's news service about sexual exploitation in African schools - a big problem here in Senegal.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Video about girls' education in Senegal

Now available on the web: a (really great) documentary created by Peace Corps Volunteers about girls' education in Senegal.  It's called "Elle Travaille, Elle Vit" (She works, She lives); it's in French with English subtitles.  Watch it here!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I am so excited about the election!!!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Potential disaster

I'm in Dakar this week for some meetings, and as usual, I was super excited about coming to Dakar for two reasons: unlimited free internet at the Peace Corps office (although it's still slow and clunky), and great food options.
So yesterday in pursuit of food happiness, I went to a little Indian grocery store down the street from the office and stocked up on some food to eat over the next couple days.  I got some ramen noodles, some microwavable Indian food meals, and some other odds and ends, including real milk to put in my tea (I always use powdered milk in Tamba and the village). 
And then I discovered that whenever I consume the milk, which tastes AMAZING and has definitely not gone bad, it upsets my stomach.  So now I am worried that in my year and a half of hardly ever having any real milk I might have become lactose intolerant.  Which would be a disaster, because having hot tea with milk is very important to my sanity.  All the other dairy stuff I could give up, but not milk in my tea. 
So now I am really, really hoping that this is just a temporary thing (like maybe I've got parasites again and they don't like milk) or else that I just need to get used to dairy again.  The alternative is just too sad to contemplate.

Bucket down

Written Thursday, 30 October 2008


I just went to the well to get water, and as I always do, I set my empty bucket on the concrete ledge of the well. Maybe I'm psychic, because I noticed that the ledge in that spot wasn't quite flat, and I thought how easy it would be for the bucket to fall into the well.  Psychic maybe, but not smart enough to move it to another spot.  Sure enough, a second later the rope knocked into it and it fell in.


I'd been all alone at the well, but as soon as the bucket fell in, even though it hardly makes any noise, I was suddenly surrounded by women laughing at me, asking how I'm going to get my bucket back and offering to toss me down the well to go after it.


Luckily, I have a backup bucket, so I was still able to get water for my bath, although It's going to be a little complicated next time I have to do laundry.  So the real outcome of this is that I am once again left feeling ridiculous, with what seems like half the village laughing at me for my inability to do simple village-woman tasks.  Poo.

Bye bye, Rain

Written Tuesday, 28 October 2008


Rainy season is finally over.  The grass is turning brown and dying, which makes me sad, but my clothes no longer smell perpetually like mildew, which is definitely good.  The plague of frogs should end soon (also good), but then there will be the harmattan wind that gets dust in my eyes and makes biking even short distances a miserable chore (bad).  I'm looking forward to cold nights and drinking my coffee in the morning without sweat pouring down my face, but not to taking cold showers in cool weather.


All in all I think I like rainy season and cold season about equally, but rainy season has been going on for a while and I always like change, so hurray for cold season coming!


Traditional names

Written Tuesday, 28 October 2008


Children here who aren't given Muslim (or Christian) names are given traditional names relating to the circumstances of their birth: Sunkaro, which means Ramadan, for those born during that month; Penda, third girl child; Sori, Came Early; Meeta, Took a Long Time.  Today I heard a new one which I really liked: Nyaato, Future.  Sometimes the names tell you something about how the parents felt about their new child, and this one seems very hopeful to me.

Into the Wild

Written Friday, 24 October 2008


Yesterday at the house in Tamba I watched a movie called Into the Wild, about a guy who decides to give up civilization and go live in the wilderness in Alaska, because he thinks that if he surrounds himself with nature he will learn something about Truth.


I don't care much about the search for Truth, I'm too pragmatic for that, but the movie definitely made heading off into the wilderness look like fun.  And today, biking back to my village from Tamba, I was thinking that these have been some of my favorite experiences in Africa – just biking along, looking at the beautiful scenery, dancing (the top half of me anyway) to the music on my ipod, and greeting villagers as I pass by. 


I want to find a way to continue having this lifestyle, lots of freedom and time outdoors, after Peace Corps.  (Has Peace Corps turned me into a dirty hippy, or "hip" as one of my guides in Morocco called it? Maybe.  But I bet lots of freedom and outdoor time sound pretty good to just about everyone, and I'm still a big fan of showers.)  I haven't had much success so far in thinking of a way to make it happen, though.  You get nice long summer vacations with teaching, but I just don't enjoy that enough.  You can write from anywhere, but I'm not talented enough to make a living at it (although if you could learn to write by reading books, I'd probably have won the Nobel Prize for Literature by now).  Living off my trust fund would work great, except that I haven't got one.


So for now I'm stuck.  But at least I've got another six months or so of my nice Peace Corps life left, before I have to go back to being a grown-up.

What I've been up to lately

written Friday, 24 October 2008


I'm still feuding with my counterpart about me supposedly not having done anything for the village (i.e. given them piles of money), so I haven't taught any more health classes, which we always do together.  I don't feel bad about it, though, because I think the women here know by now everything I have to teach them on that subject.  (Whether they're actually implementing the lessons – washing their hands with soap, etc. – is another issue, of course).


So instead I've been spending my time working on a proposal to get funding to buy bikes and gardening supplies for a health workers' association I've been working with for the past year.  Even though the proposal process is quite straightforward, it's requiring a lot of running around, meeting with people and visiting shops in Tamba to find out how much the equipment will cost.


I've also been going to schools to give Michelle Sylvester scholarships to this year's winners.  Which is also turning out to require a ridiculous amount of running around (mainly because Senegalese schools don't stick to a fixed calendar regarding when the first day of school is going to be – it's just somewhere post-Korite and at the end of farming season, whenever the principal and teachers and kids decide to show up).


So I've been busy, but not so much in my village.  I wish I were spending more time here with my host family and friends, but I decided it's more important to me to be doing work.

Khadija's ambulance service

written Tuesday, 14 October 2008


This morning after breakfast the village imam came and told me that his 12-year-old daughter is sick with malaria.  He had money to pay for the doctor, but no way to get her to the health post ten kilometers away.  Of course I offered to take her on my bike, as he was clearly hoping, so about 9 am we set off, with my passenger sitting on the luggage rack behind my seat.


This is the first time I've carried almost a full-grown person on my bike for any real distance, and it is hard!  Of course it didn't help that the "road" we were taking is just a dirt trail through the woods, or that it rained yesterday so the path is just a mud swamp in places.  But eventually we made it to the health post, where I paid 100 CFA (about 25 cents) for a consultation, and after not too long a wait we saw the doctor who promptly confirmed she has malaria (although he didn't bother to do a blood test to check for sure).


So she got a shot in her leg and about four different kinds of pills and syrups to take (which cost 4500 CFA, about ten dollars – two dollars more than her dad gave me, but luckily I brought my own money too just in case).  Then since it was midday and hot and she was clearly exhausted (besides making you feel awful, malaria causes anemia as the parasites break open your red blood cells) we went to her relatives' house in a village close by and rested for a while, and then I biked us home again.


I'm really glad that my villagers come to me when they're sick and need help getting to the doctor, but I wish we had a better way to get people out than by donkey cart, which takes forever, or on the back of a bike, which is just exhausting. 


written Saturday, 4 October 2008

I take it back about the Korite meat not making me sick.  Apparently it was just taking a while for the bacteria to multiply enough in my body to make me miserable.  Poo.


Written Friday, 3 October 2008


Yesterday was Korite, or "prayer day" as it is called in Mandinka, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan.  We celebrated a day later than we had been hoping to because the moon didn't come out on Tuesday night to mark the end of Ramadan.  (I am told that the Koran says that either you or someone you trust must see the moon, so now there is a debate about whether the government or a meteorologist on the radio or TV can count as someone you trust.  My village, at least this time around, decided that since no one in the village had seen the moon we would wait an extra day.)


So we celebrated yesterday, but everyone complained that it wasn't much of a party this year because no one has any money – higher food and gas prices and a poor global economy have translated into no Korite bonus from the banana plantation owner for my villagers this year.  So instead of slaughtering a sheep my family just bought a few kilos of meat from somewhere (which tasted really bad – I'm relieved I'm not sick today) and I bought them vegetables.  In the evening there was a soccer match (my friend's team won!), and that was it for our holiday.


I'm really glad to get back to a normal, non-fasting schedule.  I was really missing being able to buy bean sandwiches during the day when I'm in town.

Alternate Universe

written Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Today was one of the rare days here when the night's rain continued into the morning, which meant that I could sleep in an extra 30 minutes (because you can't do anything here when it rains) and then enjoy a leisurely morning of fixing my own breakfast (French cereal I bought in Tamba at the bargain price of $9 a box, with powdered milk and a cup of instant coffee) and listening to the news on BBC World Radio.  In other words, this morning was what passes for heaven in my current life.


Until the chief's sister, the oldest woman in my village – whose actual age could be anywhere between 50 and 100 – passed by my hut in the middle of a loud argument with one of the men in her family.  Before long, half the village was gathered 100 feet from my hut, watching and taking part in the argument.


So much for my peaceful morning.


Then my "tooma", namesake, a girl about my age with two (illegitimate) children, was taken into one of the huts, and then I could hear her screaming.  She was being beaten.  Not too badly, though, I think – they sounded more like screams of protest, or for attention and pity, than screams of real pain.


The beating didn't last long, and then the crowd broke up, off to do their usual morning chores.


Since my tooma appeared to have been the focus of the argument I had a pretty good idea what it was about, but I still wanted to find out for sure, so later I asked my sister.  She said, "You know she's not married and she's got two kids already? Well now there's going to be a third baby.  That's very bad.  That's why they beat her."


"Okay," I said, "maybe having babies when she isn't married isn't good, but beating women is bad.  In America you can go to prison for that."


"Why is it bad? She shouldn't be having kids without a husband to provide for them.  She's making more mouths to feed, more expenses that her father and brothers will have to pay for.  Of course they have the right to beat her."


And for a minute, I thought that argument made perfect sense.  She's making extra expenses for the family, not so different from if she'd run up the credit cards.  Of course they'll punish her.


And then the American, non-Senegalized portion of my brain kicked in: she is an adult! And it is wrong to beat women!


But even now, having had all day to think about it, I still can't think of a good argument to make to my sister or anyone else here for why it is wrong.  All I can come up with is that it just IS.


Some days it really scares me when I realize that this alternate universe I am living in, known as Africa, seems normal to me.  Of course I pull all my water from a well and carry it back to my hut on my head.  Of course I eat leftovers out of complete strangers' bowls at restaurants – they left vegetables!  Of course I only wear skirts long enough to at least cover my knees.  Of course a woman's family has the right to beat her if she gets pregnant and she isn't married…


I'm going to need some cultural reintegration therapy when I get back to the US.


Peanut sheller

Finally got pictures of the peanut sheller in action posted at  Enjoy!

Also there are photos of my trip to Morocco at  I'd been waiting for Sira Ba, my travel partner, to upload hers (because she has all the pics of me riding Bobby the Camel, but despite the fact that she is now in America apparently she doesn't have much internet access, so she hasn't posted them yet), but I will just put another post up when Bobby the Camel photos are available.