Saturday, December 05, 2009

Cholera Epidemic Follows Drought in Kenya

Cholera Epidemic Follows Drought in Kenya
Published: December 5, 2009

With 119 deaths, Kenyan health officials are calling it “one of the worst outbreaks in a decade.”

Friday, December 04, 2009

At a loss for words

Today after French class I decided to walk a few blocks up to the Whole Foods to buy some nice yuppie groceries which aren't available at the Safeway by my apartment, which caters mainly to lower-income families.  So I bought my groceries and was headed back down to the metro to go home when I passed an old homeless man looking through a trashcan for food to eat.

I have to admit that I've gotten fairly used to seeing homeless people around, and I probably don't often think too much about them.  But this man was old and looking through the trash.  And I had a six-inch sandwich from Subway in my backpack - I'd gotten the footlong at lunchtime, planning to eat the second half for dinner.  So, after hesitating for a moment, worrying that it might be condescending or insulting to give him leftovers, I went over and offered him my sandwich.

And he, holding a styrofoam container of mystery food that he'd just dug out of the trashcan, looked at me and peeked in the top of my paper bag full of yuppie groceries from Whole Foods, and said absolutely sincerely, "Are you sure? You have enough? I don't want to take your dinner."

I could have cried.

Instead I told him it was just my leftovers from lunch and he was very welcome to it.  So he took it, and thanked me and tried to kiss my hand.

And then I walked away with my bag full of groceries, asking myself what kind of a world this is where an old man is grateful to be given someone's half-eaten sandwich.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Things are moving fast

This past week I spent a fun two days in Communications and Field Equipment training, which basically meant learning how to use satellite phones and radios (also some computer stuff, digital cameras, etc, but I already knew how to do that stuff), and then we had to practice by going out in public and very suspiciously taking pictures of random things and talking cryptically on our radios.  We definitely got some weird looks, but I figure we were being too obvious and ridiculous for anyone to really be suspicious of us.

And that was it for all my random fun trainings, at least for now.  Next week I start studying French full-time.  Six hours a day in class, I think one-on-one, just me and a tutor.  It's going to be painful, but hopefully my French will get better really fast.

That's supposed to last for six weeks, or however long it takes until I can pass the French test.  EXCEPT, yesterday at work (yes, I was at work the day after Thanksgiving - I haven't earned very many vacation days yet, and I'm trying to save them up) my supervisor told me that they want to put me on the Somalia Task Force out in Nairobi (which sounds super cool, except that I won't get to go on any field trips to Somalia because it's too dangerous), and they want to get me out there as soon as possible, so they're talking about waiving my language and whatever other requirements so I can leave really soon.  So I might be leaving much sooner than I had expected, maybe in just a month or so.

I'm really excited about going to Nairobi eventually, but in a month?  Wow.  I was counting on being here til at least March (which would be one year since I came back from Peace Corps).  And I've been so happy in DC these last eight months, with all my friends, and my cute little apartment, and my cool job (okay, the Somalia task force sounds more interesting than what I'm doing now, but even so)... So I'm a little stressed, not sure if I'm excited about this or not, but I'm sure it'll all work out fine however it works out, so I'm going to try to just keep on with what I'm doing until I find out for sure what's happening.  (My supervisor said she'd let me know about the expedited moving thing within a week or two).

So we'll see.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Driving training, part 2

The rest of the week of driving training was just as good and fun as the first day, if not better.  Still can't tell you all about it, except that: I got to learn to drive stick shift!

I've only ever tried to learn to drive stick shift one time before, shortly after I got my license when I was sixteen.  My grandma tried to teach me out in the pastures on their farm on this ancient, broken-down truck (the gas pedal didn't even have the flat pedal-part attached to it anymore, it was just this metal stick/wire thing coming out of the floorboard, hard to find with your foot and even harder to put the right amount of pressure on).  Even experienced drivers had trouble driving that truck, so sixteen-year-old me couldn't even get it into first gear - it just stalled every time, and (did I mention the brakes were pretty much shot?) then we would start rolling backwards towards the pond, and my grandma would be yelling at me to get the truck started again and get it moving so we wouldn't fall into the pond...

So I came out of that experience thinking that driving stick shift was really, really hard.  And then I just never had another chance to try to learn until now.  It wasn't on the schedule for our driving training, but the instructors took pity on me when they found out I couldn't drive stick at all and gave me personalized instruction for an hour (along with one other student who also didn't know how to do it, which made me feel a little better).  And it turns out driving stick is super easy if it's with a car that actually works right.  (At least, it's super easy if you're on a closed course with no pressure from traffic and it doesn't really matter if you happen to crash into anything.  But I think I'd be fine driving in a normal setting as well.)

Anyway, so yay for driving training!  Now I am just wishing I got the opportunity to drive more often, but I guess I will get plenty of that in Nairobi - driving on the left side of the road, no less - that should be interesting.

Former Gates Foundation exec Raj Shah to head USAID

Article in the Seattle Times about the probable new Administrator for USAID.  Now if we could just get a director for OFDA too...

Monday, November 02, 2009

Driving training

So I have survived my first day of driving training, and I would love to tell you all about it, but pretty much the first thing the instructor told us this morning was that what we're learning this week is sensitive information, and so we shouldn't go blabbing about it or leave our books lying around where someone might see them.  Because we don't want the bad guys to know how we're trained to react if we're attacked, so that they can attack us better.

My first thought when he said that, though, was: if the bad guys are coming all the way to Virginia to get information on me or to attack me, I am in big trouble, and I don't think this course is going to be enough to keep me safe.

But instead of telling you what I've been up to, I will just say this:  Bad Guys, I am learning all kinds of crazy stuff you do not want to have to deal with.  So don't mess with me!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Catching up

I just checked, and it looks like it's been a month since I last posted anything.  Oops.  I guess that means my life has gotten into a routine.  Work is going well - I've had some interesting training, and my supervisor seems to be warming up to me.  This week I'm going to Richmond, VA for the best training of all - Security Driving, which I think means we'll be learning stuff like how to get away from an ambush.  And we get to learn how to ram other cars.  So if I don't get myself killed, it should be a lot of fun.

Just about everyone else who started at USAID at the same time as me is starting language training next week, so I'm going to have a possibly lonely month working at the Ronald Reagan Building.  But I chose to put off my language training because there's some interesting stuff going on in November (Annual Program Reviews - doesn't that sound exciting? No? Well I guess that proves I am a dorky bureaucrat.), so hopefully it will be worth it.  And then in December I'll start learning to speak French properly, inshallah.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Working hard

Yesterday, after spending eight hours straight staring at my computer, researching climate change, I came home, ate dinner, and promptly fell asleep on my couch... at 6 pm.  I guess I must have been a little tired.

And then I woke up this morning and heard on NPR that there was an earthquake off Indonesia, which caused a tsunami on Samoa.  Which motivated me to get back to work, so that someday, hopefully soon, I will get to be one of the people on the relief team responding to disasters like that.

And then I spent another eight hours staring at the computer, researching climate change.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Finished training

I officially finished training on Thursday, which means now I get to do some actual work.  First up: researching how climate change is likely to cause displacement and conflict.  Should be interesting, but I have to say, reading climate change articles is awfully depressing.  It goes so quickly from "Here's what is likely to happen with a 1 degree Celsius increase in average temperatures" to "We're all doomed!"

Also, I should clarify: my official mandated training is over (10 weeks of it, in case you haven't been counting), but that doesn't mean that I'm actually done with training.  Now I just get to choose which trainings I want/think I need to take.  So this next week I have a one-and-a-half day training (if they let me into the class, I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that one) on how to use field communications equipment like satellite phones.  And next week I have a training to learn how to respond to disasters as part of a deployed team (DART - Disaster Assistance Response Team).

So I'm still going to be really busy; actually I'm not quite sure how I'm going to find time to get the climate change project done.  Might have to do some super early mornings (because I hate late nights).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Death by powerpoint

Okay, I've had it.  I've tried really hard, but I just can't take it anymore.  Hour after hour, day after day, of looking at powerpoints and having people talk at me...  it's physically hurting me now.  The CIA should look into powerpoint lecturing for their interrogation program.  Or not, since I'm anti-torture.

Anyway, it's been nine weeks now since I started my job, which means nine weeks of training, mostly by powerpoint.  One week to go.  And then I'll get to do some actual work for a few weeks, inshallah.  I hope I don't discover that my brain has been completely lobotomized by staring at all these powerpoints the last few weeks and that I'm now completely useless.

But on a positive note, I also had some really good meetings yesterday.  One was about flooding in Senegal, so I was the local-knowledge "expert" (which of course I'm not really, but I did have a few thoughts to contribute, which made me feel good).  The other was trying to figure out what I'm actually going to be doing in Kenya, which was just as unclear after the meeting as before, but at least I know now that I'm confused because everyone else is too, and not because I'm missing out on some important piece of information.  And everyone was very nice and trying to be helpful, which reinforced my feeling that USAID is going to be a good place for me to work.  Even if they are giving me a lobotomy by powerpoint.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More Hong Kong photos

Hong Kong photo

A picture from my July trip to Hong Kong, for your viewing pleasure.

Posted by Picasa


For the past two days I've been in a training course on conflict assessment and programming (in which we learn how to assess what's driving the conflict, the key actors, overall context, and mitigating factors, and then to design programs to mitigate the conflict).  Throughout the training we used the current situation in Sri Lanka as a case study, determining what the conflict is really about, what opportunities may exist right now, and what sort of programs we would like to implement there.  I really enjoy doing case studies, so this was a lot of fun for me, but the best part was I realized that soon, when I go overseas to work in the Mission, I could be doing work just like this.  But it won't be a case study, it will be for real, and whatever programs I design could actually be implemented!

Very exciting, but also a lot of responsibility...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Swearing In

My training class, along with Alonso Fulgham, USAID's Acting Administrator, and a couple of other important people, just after our swearing-in ceremony, on the very first day.


So far all my time at work has been taken up with training - the first five weeks were "orientation", which was a lot of information from Human Resources about how the Foreign Service works and there were lots of forms to fill out, and then there were lots of sessions to give us a general introduction to the agency, with information about what the different bureaus do, etc. At the end of the five weeks we had a graduation ceremony, which is where they told us what country we've each been assigned to.

Since then, for the past three weeks, I've been in training provided by my bureau (Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance) to learn how to do my job. We've learned how to assess the democracy and governance situation in a country, how to evaluate the impact of programs, and lots of other stuff. The classes have almost all been really interesting, but I have to admit that after eight weeks now of sitting and watching powerpoints all day, I'm having a hard time paying attention.

But for the next two days at least, there will be a change of pace: we're moving on from democracy and governance to conflict management & mitigation, which I think I'll find a bit more interesting (not that D&G wasn't, but it's just not my main interest), and it's also going to be at a different location, which I'm hoping will be cheerier than our cold, dreary basement room.

Also they've said they're going to feed us breakfast, lunch, and a snack for the next two days, which seems so fancy after the past eight weeks of not even being provided coffee or water cooler water. (I've been spending $1.80 a day in the cafeteria on coffee, but I figure it's not so bad since I bring my own lunch and I've been biking to work. Although I can definitely make myself feel guilty by thinking about what my host family could do with an extra $1.80 a day). Anyway, all you taxpayers out there worried about government wastefulness, I haven't seen it at USAID - I mean really, not even water coolers?

Anyway, back to my point about training: two more weeks of training to go, and then, theoretically at least, I will move on to doing some actual job-related work. Inshallah. But I really only have a few weeks in October where that might happen, and then I have a couple weeks of disaster assistance training, and then I'll start full-time language training.

Busy busy busy. But I'm loving it (okay, maybe not all the powerpoints, but in general). And I'm so impressed with how smart and knowledgeable about their jobs everyone at USAID is, it makes me feel like I've really picked a good place to work.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Conflict in Uganda

Recently there's been conflict in Uganda between the Ugandan government and followers of a traditional ruler of the Baganda people.

Guess I won't be bored in my job...

Drought, famine in northern Kenya

I've started trying to read up a bit about Kenya and the whole east and central Africa region in preparation for my assignment out there, and it sounds like things are getting pretty bad out there now. There's a drought, and people are dying.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I found out this past week that I'll be working in the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) - yay! And I just found out on Friday that my first assignment will be to Nairobi, Kenya, to work at the regional mission for East Africa. Also yay! So I am a very happy girl.

I think I'll be moving to Kenya sometime early next year (February/March/April) depending on if they want me to learn Swahili or just improve my French for future postings. Our five weeks of orientation training are finally over, so starting Monday and for the next several months, I'll be doing technical training (like how to do conflict assessments, design programs, and do monitoring and evaluation) and rotations in different offices, which is basically like short internships. Hopefully it will all be very interesting and I'll learn a lot.

What hasn't happened yet is meeting my supervisor. We've got a meeting scheduled for tomorrow, so fingers crossed that it goes well and we get along.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

I'm back!

...And, I'm back! Finally!

I think I mentioned before that I had gotten a job with USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development - a cross between being a diplomat and a Peace Corps Volunteer). Well, I'm now three weeks into the job, and it's going well so far (more on that below). And, best of all - okay, not best of all, because having a job I think I'm going to love and having my first paycheck for it coming next week are in the best of all category - but anyway, in the good news section, is that I have been told officially that I may continue to write a public blog, although of course I have to be careful about what I say so I don't get myself in trouble and get fired. (Did you notice my disclaimer on the sidebar that says this is a personal website and doesn't represent the views of the U.S. government?) So I will not be telling you, for example, which governments are corrupt dictatorships. You probably already have a good idea, but if not, you can look up reports from Human Rights Watch and Transparency International. Hopefully I will still find lots of interesting things to write about, although with my impending elite diplomat lifestyle they will probably not have quite the same flavor as my village stories from Peace Corps.

So, on to what I've been up to in the last few weeks. Over the last few decades USAID has been shrinking, and now the government has decided to reverse this trend and hire lots of people. And I'm one of them. Right now I'm in a five-week orientation class for new foreign service employees. We have a great mix in the class of junior- and mid-level hires, and lots of different job titles - Health Officers, Education Officers, Agriculture Officers, Economists, Engineers... and Crisis, Stabilization, and Governance Officers, of which I am one. I think uniquely among all these job titles, my position is nebulous as I (and others with the same title) will be further specialized within this category into Democracy and Governance, Humanitarian Assistance, or Conflict Mitigation fields. I don't know yet what specialization I'm going to be assigned (I think I'll find out on Monday), but I'm really hoping for humanitarian assistance or conflict mitigation. Fingers crossed.

Anyway, the last few weeks has been pretty standard orientation stuff - lots of human resources forms and information (they keep talking about planning for retirement, which is a little freaky for those of us in the under-30 category), Powerpoint briefings on what the different USAID offices do, team-building exercises, etc. Two more weeks of this, and then on August 21st we'll have a graduation ceremony and find out what countries we're being assigned to first. As for me, I don't really care what country I go to, as long as there are interesting projects for me to work on. Although I did tell them I hate being cold, and so I'd prefer to go somewhere with a warm climate.

Okay, enough for now. Hopefully more regular posting to come.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The American Dream

For the past two weeks I was working as a "Cultural Adviser" (i.e. glorified chaperone) for groups of high school exchange students visiting D.C. for a few days before heading back to their home countries. During that time, there were of course lots of conversations with the students about how their year in America had gone, how they felt about their experiences here, etc. Including a lot of talk about the "American Dream".

I learned back in elementary school that the American Dream was about opportunity and social mobility - you could come to America as a poor immigrant with nothing, and work hard, and become rich. Or you could grow up in poverty in rural America, have little formal schooling, and one day become President of the United States (like Abraham Lincoln).

But the American Dream that these kids talked about was something different, and I really enjoyed hearing their interpretations of it. Most humorously, a lot of the boys talked about American girls as the American Dream. As in, how they're going to miss the American Dream when they go back home! I'm not sure if girls are the American Dream because of being (to them) exotic-looking and therefore especially beautiful, or if it's more about the rules of boy-girl relationships in the U.S. being (in general) more relaxed than in their home countries. In any case, I enjoyed that interpretation of the American Dream.

More seriously, one of the activities we did with one group of the students was a reception with a couple of U.S. Senators who sponsored the bill to create the exchange program, and one of the students (a girl from Morocco) gave a beautiful speech about what coming to America had meant to her. I wish I had the text, because it was really a great speech, especially for a high school student (I couldn't have done as well). But in any case, in it she mentioned the American Dream - before coming here she had seen American tv and movies, and she thought the American Dream was about having a nice life, with a nice house and car and all the other luxuries we take for granted in this country. But she said after living here for a year she'd realized that the American Dream is something much deeper than that, that it is about freedom and respecting each other in spite of whatever differences we may have.

So I learned a lot from these kids in the past few weeks. And they also made me feel quite "proud to be an American" (I can't hear that phrase without having the song pop into my head).

Monday, April 06, 2009

Help the Dialacoto Health Workers Association

It seems that I have left Senegal, but Senegal has not yet left me.  A "Peace Corps Partnership Project" which I had been working on since last August with my volunteer neighbor Hawa Ba has finally been approved.  Which means that the Powers That Be in Peace Corps have decided that it's a worthwhile project, posted it online, and we can now solicit funds for it from friends, family, and the public. 

A little background: Peace Corps Partnerships is one of the primary ways for Volunteers to get funding for projects.  It's supposed to be a little more formal and legit than Volunteers just asking their friends and family to send them money - the project has to be vetted by Peace Corps to ensure it's a good project, and all donations are tax-deductible, like giving to any charity.  This particular project is to help a Health Workers Association in the Dialacoto area where my village is located, get some supplies to extend their health education, sanitation, and income generating projects.  The funds will go toward getting each member of the association a bicycle to use to travel to villages in the area where they work (which especially benefits the women members, by the way, as they are the least likely to own or have access to a bicycle), and to buying supplies like shovels and rakes, which will be used to keep the villages clean and for gardening activities like the mango orchard they started last year.  You can read more details about the project here

I didn't start working on this project until I'd been in my village for over a year because I wanted to make sure that any big projects that I did would be things that would really be useful and would benefit the community.  And I wanted the idea for a project to come from someone in the community, rather from me, in order to ensure that it was something people really wanted.  So this project was finally proposed to me last August by the president of the Health Workers Association, and the Association is contributing 25% of the funds for the project, so I feel pretty confident that this is something that people really want and that will be useful.

So that is my spiel.  Please consider contributing whatever you feel comfortable with. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Back to America!

After a week of much paperwork, running around, and stress in Dakar, last Friday night it was finally time for me to go to the airport, hop on a plane, and come home to the U.S.  I got lucky in that an American woman I'm friends with who works at the embassy in Dakar was flying to the U.S. the same night, so we went to the airport together.  Everyone there knows her because she flies so often, so she gets VIP treatment, not having to stand in lines with the masses.  And since I was with her, I got the VIP treatment too!  Someone came over and told me to give him my  passport and he would take care of everything, which he did.  It made the whole experience so much more survivable, especially since it was 3 am and I was exhausted.  The flight was fine, except that Delta's "dinner" meal (served at about 4 am Dakar time) was ham sandwiches.  On a flight from a country that is 95% Muslim!  A woman across the aisle from me complained, and the stewardess (or air hostess, or whatever you're supposed to call them) told her she should have ordered a special meal ahead of time.  That made me kind of mad.  On a flight from a Muslim country a non-pork meal should not be considered a special request!  I didn't specially request not to be served monkey eyeball soup, (a la Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), but I was still be pretty shocked if they had served it on a flight to America, especially as the only meal option.

Okay, enough ranting about Delta's cultural insensitivity.  I'm back in America  now, and everything seems pretty normal, not too much culture shock, except: all the electronic noise! Heating fans, TVs, kitchen timers, phones ringing... sitting inside my friend's apartment, all these background noises that I would never have noticed before are making me feel like I am inside a bomb that's about to go off.  And it's very hard to concentrate.  I used to be an excellent multi-tasker, but now everything is distracting me so I can't pay attention to anything for more than half a second, so I can't keep up with conversations, and I am feeling lost and confused...  But I have confidence I will get used to all this again, and everything will be fine.  Inshallah!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Goodbye, Tambacounda

Yesterday I made the 10-hour Tamba-to-Dakar trip for the very last time (not counting possible trips back to visit someday). Everyone keeps asking me how it feels to have left my village, to know that I may never again see people who have been my family and friends for the past two years. The truth is, I don't know. I think I should be feeling really sad about saying goodbye to them all and to the incredible life I have been living for the last two years. Probably I will feel that eventually, maybe on the plane home, maybe later. But right now mostly I just feel relieved to have gotten the stressful goodbyes over and to finally be released from the never-ending village guilt.

And I wish I could say that my village goodbyes had gone well, that they were heartwarming and had left me with a warm fuzzy feeling. I wish that they had been. Instead, when I told my villagers it was my last week, all I got was people coming to my hut or pulling me aside to tell me, "When you leave, I want you to give me x. Okay?  Don't forget!  I've got dibs!"  The closest I got to anything like an "I'll miss you" was my host mother saying "What am I going to do when you're gone? We're not getting another volunteer after you, so who's going to give me money for going to the doctor and buying spices?"

After a couple days of that, I just couldn't take it anymore.  All I'd wanted was to have some quality time in my village, doing normal village things with my friends and family.  But except for the kids, who were adorable as always, I couldn't enjoy anyone's company because all they wanted to talk about was what presents I would give them.  So I decided it was time to leave, before the goodbyes could turn me bitter about my whole Peace Corps experience.  So I told my village I had to change plans and leave in the morning, instead of two days later as I had originally planned.  And then I finally got the nice goodbyes.  I invited my sisters over to my hut after dinner, planning to tell them that they could divide up all the stuff in my hut among themselves.  So they came over, but instead of immediately looking over my stuff and arguing over who got what as I had expected them to do, they just sat on my bed and wanted to talk.  So I ended up having a really nice last evening with my sisters, which made up a lot for the last couple of days.  And then in the morning I got up and biked out of the village before anyone was up (as I had told them I was planning to do) so there wouldn't be any chance for my nice goodbye to be ruined by more "gimme gimme".

So I guess the way my service ended was pretty typical of my whole experience in Senegal: lots of stress and frustration, with some really nice moments thrown in to make it all worth it.  

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Rescuing the devil cat baby

When I arrived back in my village for the last time, after my very long trip to Thies and Dakar and America, I was greeted, as usual, with chants of “Khadija came! Khadija came!” and then the various kids I am friends with ran over and insisted on rolling my bike into my hut for me and sweeping out my hut and yard.

This time they decided to do a very thorough cleaning of my yard, so they tilted up my rotten, termite-infested outside bed to rake out underneath it as well. And there they discovered three adorable, tiny kittens, which looked exactly like the devil-cat that was once the bane of my existence, so I am sure they are her children. I should clarify, though: to me, the kittens looked adorable; to the kids helping clean up my hut, apparently they looked like evil monsters which must be immediately exterminated before they are able to carry out their dastardly plan to destroy the universe. I know this because immediately the kids started screaming, chasing after the cats, throwing things at them, and one child even tried to stomp on them. Which made me think of serial killers – don't they, as children, supposedly enjoy torturing and killing small animals? Probably this is a cultural thing that does not translate, though. At least I really hope so, or else a good proportion of my village kids are growing up to be serial killers.

Two of the kittens managed to run into the inside room of my hut, where the kids know they are not allowed to go. They asked me if I wanted to make an exception and let them in, just this once, so that they could de-monsterify my hut for me; I declined. The other kitten had escaped under my fence, out into the village somewhere. Or so I thought, until a while later when I was taking my bucket shower and heard a meowing somewhere around. At first I thought it was somewhere on the other side of the fence, crying because it couldn't find its brother and sister (still hiding behind a cardboard box in my hut). Eventually I realized, though, that the sound was coming from underneath me, from the pit of my latrine. The kitten must have fallen (or jumped) down the poop hole when the kids were chasing it.

This realization made me very sad. There was no way it would be able to climb out, which meant it would die down there, and probably I would have to listen to it cry and die slowly over the next few days. I considered the options: lower a bucket down the poop hole, somehow lure the cat into it, and haul it up? But the hole is too small for a bucket. Break the concrete floor of the latrine to make a bigger hole? Not very feasible, and anyway falling concrete would probably end up falling on the kitten and kill it. Throw some rat poison down the hole, so at least the cat would die quicker and hopefully less painfully? If I couldn't think of any other options, then yes.

But first I decided to go see if my friend Mamadou had any ideas. Given the kids' reactions to the kittens, I wasn't expecting a lot of sympathy from him for the cat's situation, but I thought it wouldn't hurt to try. Sure enough, he had an idea: we could lower a pole down the hole which the cat could then climb up. So we tried that, but none of the poles were long enough to reach the bottom of the pit. So then we attached two poles together with wire, and this time it was long enough. But I didn't hear the cat trying to climb it. Mamadou said the cat was probably just too scared and we should go away and leave it alone for a while, and then the cat would come out. So we went.

But when I came back later to check, the cat was still down there. I thought the pole was probably too narrow and hard for the cat to get its claws into, so I pulled the pole back out of the hole, found a big rope, and wrapped it around and around the pole, so that the cat would have something to stick its claws into. Then I put the pole back down the hole. This time the cat immediately jumped onto it and started climbing up. Soon it was out.

When I told this story later to other Volunteers, their first question was, “So then you adopted the kitten, right?” I will admit that I thought about it – after all, I'd saved its life. Seems like it must be meant to be my pet. But then I thought, what? Adopt a feral, poop-covered kitten, when I have only a few days left to live in the village? Get it all used to humans, so when I leave it will be an easier target for the possibly-future-serial-killer children? I don't think so.

So the cat ran off, and I never saw it again. But I like to imagine that it cleaned the poop off itself (although I don't like to imagine the actual process of it using its tongue to lick the poop off its body!), and found a nice, happy place to live. And hopefully will grow up to be something nicer than its mother the devil-cat.

Parade for Hu Jintao

While I was in Dakar in February, my friends and I happened upon a parade to welcome Hu Jintao (and more Chinese money) to Senegal. Some photos from the event:

I had to fight off about five Senegalese women to get this shirt (they were throwing them into the crowd):

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


A few quick observations from my first time back in America after almost two years:

1. America is freezing, freezing cold.
2. The food is amazing. I ate broccoli, cooked various ways, every day for a week. (Also I ate a lot of other stuff, none of which was rice or peanuts!)
3. Hot showers are very, very nice.
4. Technology has progressed so much in the last two years. And I want it all.
5. Malls are nice. There are lots of pretty things, and you can look at them, even try things on, without people getting in your face trying to sell them to you. But things are expensive. I missed being able to bargain on prices with the salespeople.
6. American refrigerators have so much food in them I almost went into shock.
7. Traveling in America is amazing. You get a whole seat to yourself, and there are seatbelts, and the vehicles have shocks, and there are a minimal number of potholes in the roads.
8. Where are the talibe begger children to eat my leftovers?
9. Why aren't strangers on the street or in the metro talking to me, asking me personal questions like whether I have a husband? I miss them.

So after two weeks in America I was ready to come back to Senegal, but now I miss all the nice things that are there. (And of course it was nice seeing my family and friends!)

I got a job!

I'm afraid it's been approximately forever, or exactly one month, since I last managed to post. Apologies to all the millions anxiously awaiting my pearls of wisdom.

Anyway, I have had a good reason for not posting. Which is, that I've been incredibly busy and also didn't want to say too much about what was going on until I knew how it was going to turn out. But now it's done, so I will tell:

Way back last June-ish I applied for a dream job: Crisis, Stabilization, and Governance Officer in the USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development, which is like grown-up Peace Corps) foreign service. But months went by and I never heard anything, so I kinda gave up on it. Then just before Christmas I received an email saying that they wanted me to come to Washington, D.C. for an interview. Very exciting! There was lots of paperwork that had to be done beforehand, so I had to give up my planned Christmas vacation to Mali and instead go to Dakar. Not going to Mali was a big disappointment, but definitely worth it for the possibility of an amazing job. Plus, who knows, maybe I'll have another chance to go to Mali someday.

So I got all my paperwork done in Dakar over Christmas, then went back to my village for a short time to do the girls' leadership camp that Hawa Ba and I had been planning for a long time. Then it was back up to Thies and Dakar, and then flying to America for my interview. I had two days to get my hair cut, get some interview clothes, and in general to make myself civilized and presentable for the interview. Then there was the interview, which lasted two days, during which I struggled to remember how to speak proper English using words over two syllables long.

I didn't think the interview went that great, but at least it got me back to America for the first time in two years. Afterwards I flew to Tennessee to see my family, which was very nice, and then after a week of eating non-stop and complaining about the cold American weather it was time to come back to Senegal and anxiously wait to find out if I got the job.

Which I finally heard about on Friday: someone called me on my cell phone and said "Congratulations...crackle crackle...continuing...crackle crackle... pre-employment process." Took me a little while to decode, but I finally realized: I got the job!!! It's contingent on getting security and medical clearances, so not quite in the bag yet, but hopefully it won't take too long for all of that to get worked out.

In the meantime, I've got until March 15 to finish up Peace Corps...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Trying to break some future wives

This past weekend Hawa Ba, Sira Sanokho, and I did some "girls' empowerment" (i.e. wife-breaking, to the Senegalese) activities at the middle school in our region.  It was really stressful, especially when we showed up at the school on Thursday (two days before our events were supposed to happen) to reconfirm everything with the school principal, only to find out he had gone off to Dakar for vacation and had done none of the things he had promised to do to get things ready.  (I have not yet forgiven him, probably never will).  But luckily the teachers at the school were really nice and willing to help out, so we were able to make the activities happen anyway.

First, Saturday afternoon as the kids were getting out of class for the day, we had a ceremony to recognize the girls who had the top grades in each class.  We gave a little speech about how the education of girls is important for the development of the country, and how these girls have worked really hard and should be congratulated on their achievements.  The whole idea, of course, being to boost the girls' self-esteem and encourage other girls to stay in school and study hard too.

Then that evening we showed a film (made by Peace Corps volunteers!) in the middle of Dialacoto about the importance of girls staying in school and getting an education.  There weren't that many girls who were able to come watch it (since we had to show it after dark and it's not really safe for them to be out by themselves at night), but there were tons of boys and men watching, which I think is also a good thing.

Then on Sunday the Peace Corps Cross-Cultural Trainer, who also does a lot of work with Senegalese girls, came from Thies to talk to our girls about staying in school and how to deal with common challenges Senegalese girls face.  The girls were really quiet for her whole talk, so we worried a little bit that they weren't finding it very interesting, but at the end when they were asked for a second time what they wanted to be when they grew up, one of the girls changed her original answer, a teacher, to a trainer who will teach women to know who they are, which is what our speaker had told the girls her job was.  So I think maybe it really made a difference to them after all.

That was my last big activity that I had planned before the end of my Peace Corps service (coming up frighteningly soon!), so it was really nice to finish on such a good note.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Happy holidays

The last day I was in Thies for Operation Smile I got an email inviting me for an interview for a job I had applied for, way back over six months ago. So I came up to Dakar to do some paperwork, and I've been really busy trying to get ready for the interview (which I'm trying not to get my hopes up about - I'll say more if I get the job). But I did find some time over Christmas and New Year's to have some fun, so here are some pictures for you to enjoy!

Just before Christmas, the nice American expat whose house I've been staying at in Dakar took us to Keur Moussa monastery to see an interesting fusion of traditional Catholic mass with African music, and afterward we went to Bandia Nature Reserve, where we saw





horse antelope!

and rhinos!

Then for New Year's, Mariama and I went to St. Louis, where we

rode horses on the beach! (Which I've always wanted to do).

And then we went to this weird place called Lompoul, which is a mini-desert in the middle of Senegal, and we

rode camels!

Overall, an excellent, excellent last holiday in Senegal!  Happy (very late) holidays, everyone!