Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, December 27


Christmas in Senegal. For the most part I held myself together... and had a pretty good time. I, along with a few new friends, rented a house on the beach in Popenguine, Senegal. We met up on the 23rd in the nearby town of Mbour to do introductions, get some food, and develop a game plan. We took a communal car to the road near the house, climbed up and down a few paths until we emerged at a staircase leading to our holiday get-a-way. The house was just build, and we were rumored to be the first renters. It was two bedrooms, bath, living room and kitchen (with amenities) areas. And then there was the balcony with its' oh-so-magnificent view.

The first night we went out on the town. Eating and drinking at a few of the local French owned hotels and meeting up with the Popenguine volunteer's friends. Day two, Christmas Eve, was organized from the get-go. We discussed menus and organized shopping trips, but mostly we spent a lot of time lounging around and enjoying each other. Near dusk we dug a pit in the sand off the ocean, built a fire and made dinner. We pre-cut veggies, fish, and chicken to be placed in individual foil packets with butter and oil. We cooked at ate them right there on the beach, with drinks, music, and the stars. Dad & Sue, and Celia all called to hear about my first African Christmas.

On Christmas Morning we made chocolate pancakes and scrambled eggs, I opened my stocking for all to see, and we had planned a white elephant gift exchange. In the end I walked away with two new fashion scarves. Shortly after a small miracle happened; I was left alone. I don't think I've been alone in a house by myself since last summer. It was great. Everyone magically disappeared to the beach or to the market and I was left to my own devices. So I started to cook, with movies and music in the background.

I prepared a 6.6 lbs roast which had been labeled tranche steak in the store. We deciphered this to mean hunk of meat that is meant to be cut into steaks... or not in our case. It turned out beautifully. With the help of some new friends we also made roasted garlic spread toast appetizers, mashed potatoes, Marsala carrots, onion basting sauce, and Yorkshire pudding (although admittedly this ended up being so late out of the oven we ate it for breakfast the next day- but still very delicious).

Dad & Sue, and of course Celia all called again on Christmas... and managed to make me cry. Thanks guys. I miss you, too.

Just before sunset we made a group trip to the beach. We took a bunch of pictures, danced, and enjoyed the sunset. It was another volunteer's birthday, so for dessert we made chocolate cake and muffins with chocolate, strawberry, and coconut ice cream. Throughout the weekend I continued to persuade the household to watch classic Christmas movies: Christmas Story, Elf, and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I did not have to persuade them to put Frank Sinatra's Christmas album on. The weekend was filled with both Frank and Christmas music in general... so you can see why I enjoyed these people.

Senegalese Christmas is a bit different. Midnight mass is the main event. After, everyone goes back to the house to commence a marathon of a party. Dancing starts, and drink and appetizers are served all night. By sunrise, people have started preparing dinner for Christmas Day. Unless they've made pork, they share with all their Muslim neighbors and friends. The drinking goes on all Christmas day, as well as the music, and general partying. Out in Popenguine, the speakers are set up around dinner time and the music lasts until 5a on the 26th (awesome, right?).

For the whole weekend of travel, lodging, food, drink, and supplies for the house I spent about $80. You too, can have this African Christmas...

Sunday, December 20

Breaking Up

Moving to Africa was like breaking up with a boyfriend. Let me explain.

When I first applied to PC I wanted to change my life, do something different, have something some new under my belt. Like a stale or stagnant relationship, I wanted out. People generally don't make quick decisions to leave their life behind and in the time they ponder the ultimate decision, there is a certain amount of deception. I believe that for a few weeks people consider their breakups quietly and alone, pondering the pros and cons. In my case, I was deceiving my current job. You pretend things are normal, that you're not thinking outside the box. But gradually, your closest friends are sworn to secrecy in order to aid you with your decision. And then it's time.

When I was accepted to the Peace Corps, and knew I was going to Senegal, I called my boss to ask for a meeting. You may recognize this as the "we need to talk" stage of a relationship. Like that talk, I seriously went into it thinking my job would realize this was the best decision for me. I even had notions that my coworkers would be happy for me. In general, they were. But there were a few who seemed disappointed; and that still gets me. The first few days after I left my job, and was about to start my new life, I was amazingly happy. I would equate them to the hours and days after a break up. You're excited to be single again, in control, and ready for all the new possibilities. You are no longer tied down by your former ways. Perhaps you even resent the person you were becoming and think "how could I have let that go on for so long?" Every door is open and you can't wait to get out there.

Then inevitably, something shifts. Perhaps you're waking up on your first Sunday alone. Your former significant other used to make pancakes but now you can't be bothered so you grab a banana instead. Or perhaps you've just landed in Africa. The realities of your decisions have come crashing down. The high is gone. Suddenly, like a weed growing undetected in the garden, the counter-productive thoughts seep in and you notice them all at once. Why did I give up air-conditioning, the foods I love, and the people who know me? Or in a relationship it's the apartment you shared, the Sunday morning pancakes, and the person who knows how to take care of you when you're sick. All the reasons you left seem minuscule when compared to all the things you've just realized are gone. Dare I say one has come face to face with losing all those things they didn't appreciate before? Ouch. That's a rough one to swallow.

And so then I sit there, questioning why I came to Senegal in the first place, and all I want to do is go home. Go back to my previous relationship with my old life.

But there's something that stops me from doing it. Just as we all know you can't go back to a broken relationship because the second time around never works, I can't go back to my old life. My car has been sold, my possessions and rental house given up, and my job passed on to a colleague. Going back would mean more comfort but also more stress. Like a second go at a relationship where the problems still exist but the Sunday pancakes are back. I don't think the pancakes would taste the same. Better than none, but not the same.

And that's why every time I say I want to go home, I tell myself I can't. I tell myself things will get better, I will get used to the bugs, the heat, the language. I will no longer miss my pancakes because I will make a new routine. But I only half believe it. I'm still sad, and I cry when I'm alone.

This may sound really depressing, but try to remember your last break up. Every day is a little bit better than the last. Every day it hurts a bit less. You've started meeting friends for Sunday brunch, decorated the new apartment, and now use TiVo when you're sick. Or in my case, I eat ngallah on Sundays, hung maps in my room (that coordinate with my mosquito net), and my host mom makes me soup when I'm ill. And then one day you wake up and you don't miss that ex (boyfriend or life) anymore. You actually have made a new routine and you can't imagine going back. This is the new you and you're better for it.

I'm not to the point where I don't miss my old life, but it hurts less. And I'm learning to enjoy this new life more and more every day... and that's what it's like joining the Peace Corps.

Sunday, December 13


Habits I think I'm going to pick up by default:
1) Shaking everyone's hand when I walk into a room.
2) Getting annoyed when someone doesn't say Hello to me on the street.
3) Eating a baguette with every meal.
4) Looking for another carb at each meal: rice, pasta, etc.
5) Counting how many glasses of water I've had in a day.
6) Taking 3 showers a day.
7) Boiling all veggies and meat, all the time.
8) Wishing people excellent digestion after meals.
9) Taking an astronomical amount of pills each day.
10) Honking at people on the side walk as I drive by, just to make sure they don't think about randomly jumping into the street in front of me.

Monday, November 30

Letters from Abroad- November

I have an office in the mayor's building, which is really like a city hall. I share my office with the person whose rank, directly translated from French, is 3rd person the mayor. We are sitting there this morning discussing the upcoming religious holiday, and the fabric she had just bought for her new outfit for said holiday, when a fellow citizen came in.

This woman was about 45 to 50, appeared to be a hard worker, a seller at the market, and highly agitated. She immediately began speaking in elevated tones (even for the vibrant Senegalese culture), waving herself about the room with gestures, and pounding on the desk to heighten certain points. She spoke Wolof which ruled me out as a conversation participant quickly. But when she started leaking tears, I knew something was wrong. I watched her explain something for nearly 15 minutes, and in doing so convinced myself that something horrible had happened to this woman.

You see, the thing is, Senegalese don't cry. So that, plus the screaming and banging, lead me to believe that someone had destroyed this woman by running down her family in the street and simultaneously crushing her stand at the market... thus completely killing her livelihood. The scene was that dramatic. After 15 min you would have concluded pretty much the same, though maybe less graphic (Thanks, Malaria pills).

So somehow things end, and the women leaves just as fast as she blew in. I'm left with just my office-mate. I give her the "I'm seriously going to need an explanation for that" look and she tells me the woman was upset with the Collector in the Mayor's Office.

Aah, this must be the bastard driving the killer semi-truck. "What do you mean Collector?" Well, the guy who collects money for the permits, you know, to sell in the market. "Oh, so he wouldn't give her a permit?" No, she refused to pay. "Oh, so they must be really expensive?" No, they're only about $0.20. "I don't get it, why did she refuse?" Who knows?!

Who knows?! That is not the end of this explanation, lady. But as far as my language skills and her patience were concerned it was. I can't believe the amount of drama I just went through for a "who knows" conclusion. What the...? But then as my friend Christine would say, "Why ask why in Senegal..."

I've been keeping busy. There are a lot of Americans around these days. My host dad is the president of one of the local emergency clinics in town. He worked with a program called the African Birth Collective to have 5 midwife students and 2 supervisors come for about a month to work with the local clinics. They are delivering babies and exchanging ideas with the locals (though that last part was only in theory as not one of them speaks French or Wolof). And given that, I've been spending way too much time translating.

Then there are the guys working at the local phosphate factory that are here from Texas. They will be here for 90days, leave for 2 weeks, and come back for another 90days. This is supposed to continue for the next 3 years. I would take 3 years if I could go home for 2 weeks all the time... but that wasn't a choice for me.

Anyway, I feel like I've been playing the part of a cruise director, which means I've been running around town trying to make sure all the Americans are properly translated, entertained, and have bought all the souvenirs they require. It's really quite exhausting; especially because they always want to drink. This seems like fun, but I generally feel dehydrated all the time... and thus mildly hung-over all the time. Not cool.

The other side to this situation is that everyone realizes that I'm a volunteer... and thus make enough money to live like the Senegalese do. Which in turn means, that I have a budget of about $4 a day... and therefore can't afford to keep up with their entertainment schedule. So to compensate, they are always paying for me. This seemed nice at first, but it's starting to bug my conscious. I've been sitting around feeling like it's wrong for them to always be buying me things.

Another downside is that I spend a lot of time speaking English. This means that I'm not utilizing my French skills... let alone improving them or working on learning Wolof. I think this is bad. I think I'm getting worse in French by spending more time with Americans.

And lastly, I'm supposed to be spending this time getting to know my community. Instead, I feel like I interact with my community as a translator for some other random white people. But I'm pretty sure that's not the Peace Corps goal. So now, I'm speaking English, feeling guilty for having a Sugar Daddy, and therefore feel like I'm the shittiest Peace Corps Volunteer on the planet. How do I change that?

I think I'm stressed.
Love you, Alys

Hey Papi,
The prescription story I've been meaning to tell you goes as follows... I was feeling particularly under the weather a week or so back and send the medical staff an email with symptoms. When they called back that told me to go to the pharmacy and buy the French version of penicillin. Buy two boxes, take 3 times a day. I wrote the name and that sentence down on a old scrap paper. When I left my mom asked if I needed an actual prescription paper... But I shrugged and said I didn't know. The doctor had told me that if I had any problems to call her from the store so she could talk to them. When I got there, I told them what I wanted; they looked at my old piece of paper notes, and handed over the drugs. Strange right? The only thing preventing people from miss-using drugs is the fact that they can't afford to pay for them. Upon telling this story to another volunteer, they suggested I go back and ask for medical marijuana. It's not like I need a slip from the doctor, right? Good thing I don't do drugs!
Love you, Alys

Uncle Andy & Aunt Deb,
I had quite a unique Thanksgiving Day. The Volunteer from the next town over came to meet my family and celebrate with me. We went for a long walk through the market and bought ingredients for homemade stuffing and an apple crisp dessert. Then we came back and made it with my family... they'd made roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, and salad with mayonnaise/ veggie bits dressing. The stuffing was simple and awesome. Hand torn baguettes by yours truly with beef bouillon, onions and what other random herbs we could find.

The volunteer I replaced in town and family (who is still here until next month finishing a project) also came over for dinner. We ate Senegalese style which meant we put the chicken in the middle of a circular platter with miniature servings of each side in blobs around the edges... then we ate it with our fingers. There are pictures of my 1.5yr old host brother with mashed potatoes all over this face and head. I will post on Facebook ASAP. They didn't understand the concept of the gravy we made, but oh well.

When it came time to serve our stove top made "crisp" (because it never really baked in an oven, but was still great) we served up coffee cups of apples sautéed with butter, sugar, cinnamon, and allspice. Mix in some flour and oatmeal to congeal and bring down the sweetness effect and you had a great dish! Or at least all the Americans thought so. Watching my host mom eat it was hilarious. It was all she could do to eat a few bites so that she would be polite and yet still keep a straight face. I couldn't stop laughing. Who could be offended when clearly this means "more for us?"

Since mine is a Muslim (aka dry) house, we went to the Catholic corner store to buy a few beers after. But we left that shortly, and grabbed the hidden bottle of tequila in my room and headed for the hills. The tallest hill in town is curiously where the Catholics started a cemetery (Muslims generally cremate). We hung out with some stray dogs, and graves, while looking out over the city, up at stars, talking, and getting drunk. All in all, a good time.

Thanks for listening to my story. Hope you had a great holiday, too.
Love you, Alys

Sunday, November 29

Bathroom Problems

I decided to personalize my room finally. Granted I had realized that since Christine visiting was for Thanksgiving we'd have to share my bed, thus the lame job of rigging my mosquito net was going to have to be remedied. And this spurred my energy. Anyway, after moving every one of my 4 pieces of furniture, I had sat down to admire my work (and let the sweat dry).

This is when it occurred to me that I'm a genius. I've finally solved the after-problem problem! You know, when you don't always make it while running to the bathroom (first problem) and have subsequently torn off all of your clothing in total disgust... It's only then that I realize that my windows are all wide open and my dresser of cloths is on the OTHER side of my room from the toilet (after-problem problem).

Well, sub-conscious genius that I am, I've moved the dresser to be immediately outside of the bathroom. Viola! Genius, right? It's the little things, and I guess you had to be there. In any case, it'd be a good idea if you got used to random revelations about bathroom instances. This is a recurring theme in PC life.

Sunday, November 22

Wolof Week

I have seriously lucked out. I've spent a week on a very pleasant vacation of sorts. In my continued attempt to be a decent volunteer I begged for assistance in learning a language I'm not all that interested in. As if the 8th wonder of the world, Peace Corps granted my request by informing me that I would be uprooted once more for a week in a small village about an hour and half from here. Paranoid of awkward family introductions, not being able to communicate with another town of people, and being annoyed with fellow students and the new professor... I headed off none-the-less.

As if someone figured it was time to cash in my karma chips, I was placed in class with 3 stellar people and a great teacher. All of them were witty and smart, but most importantly patient with my horrible lack of Wolof skill. In addition, the town (could I really say "town" when talking about 20 households?) of Ker Se Darou was utterly enchanting with the generosity of its people, quaint landscaping, and satisfyingly sluggish life style. Sprinkled between the intensive language sessions were hours of avoiding fish in the lunch bowl, discussions of Christmas plans with my fellows, bissap flavored ice, and time with my new host family- who doubled over with laughter and patience at my infantile language skills.

Four days after landing in Ker Se Darou (and at least two of which we spent begging not to go) we were paraded out. My family, in an act of the pin-ultimate of hospitality, dressed Jackie and I in new matching traditional African outfits and sent us on our way with a trail of children following. My Wolof may not be great, but the week was!

Sunday, November 1

New House Adjusment

What I hate about living in a new house is that period where you know each other, but don't know everything that is kosher. When is a good time to do my laundry because the family's is already done? Is it acceptable to walk around in my pjs? Could I possibly make something to eat for myself and make it to bed at a decent hour? How much time am I allowed to spend alone in my room, or is that counteracted if the door is open? I was just finally getting used to things at the other house when we finished training... so in about 7 more weeks I'll be good.

Friday, October 30

Letters From Abroad- October

I honestly go back and forth between enjoying it here and not. The PC recruitment phrase is "the toughest job you'll ever love." It used to sound cute and catchy before, but now it's like a smug comment that rubs me the wrong way.

At the moment, I'm sick and grumpy. I'm annoyed that everyone compares me to the previous volunteer. I have to say at least once daily that "Je ne suis pas Devon," I am not Devon. I'm not picking up Wolof as fast as he is, I want to do better in French, I don't eat a mountain of food, I don't like peanut butter, I don't go out until 8a the next morning, I don't like play boxing with the kids, I don't want to eat every single meal (with or without my family), WE AREN"T THE SAME PERSON. Get over it.

Yet it continues every day. My family's current favorite thing to do is tell me about Devon, what he likes, dislikes, and said about the US... like they are testing me. Did I know that? Do I agree? Is it true?

We had some health volunteers come this week. They are here to work with pregnant women and births, etc with the local clinics. I've become a translator of French for them. I'm on call for births these days!

Anyway, in passing they asked if there was a place to get a good massage here. I laughed and told them "good luck, but my Dad's girlfriend should be coming to start shop in about 2 years."

Think about you guys all the time, even when not really relevant. I put up all the pictures Dad gave me of you two and my whole family has made a point of coming to my room to ask about them!

Hey All,
We are finished with training and I've be moved to my permanent work site. That means two things: 1) I now have internet access in my room (as in I can send and receive email often), and 2) my mailing address has changed too.

I will have the following postal address for the next two years:
PCV Alys Moshier
BP 103
Mboro, Senegal
West Africa
Par Avion

A few people have been generous enough to suggest sending some items to Africa. With thoughts of saving time, creating a decent list, and hopefully being lucky enough to get a package... I'm sending the below wish list. Most items will be hugely appreciated anytime of the year (don't worry about doubles of anything). Others are obviously a bit more expensive and if sent would make us life-long friends and get you out of a few birthdays and/or Christmas presents.

As a side note to this, to help guarantee that I get packages decorate the box with Christian symbols such as crosses, etc. It sounds strange, but apparently it's bad karma to mess with religious packages according to Senegalese culture. Whatever works, right? Regular letters should be no problem.

Combination lock- No keys, something basic to help me lock up some stuff. They are expensive here. Probably could use 2.
T-shirts- By this I mean basic Haines whites or funky ones from goodwill. Either will be useful if sent it size M.
Fiber supplements- Don't ask me to explain unless you want to hear about poop.
Protein- Ditto. Powder, bars, pills, whatever is easiest- I need to get more.
Duct tape- Universal, and I can't believe I forgot to pack this staple. Did I ever go camping as a kid? Sorry, Dad.
Flash drive- 4g or more preferably.
External hard drive- My computer doesn't have a DVD drive... so to be able to watch movies I have a friend copy them to their computer, format, and transfer to mine. And since there is a huge collection of bootleg in country now the hard drive would be gold. (Kind of expensive so not for the casual send... definitely Christmas present idea.)
Face scrub- The scrub is key... feel so dirty here that a good almond scrub would be awesome.
Quick dry towel- Example link, can be found in outdoors stores, about $30.
Calendar 09 & 10- Sounds dumb, but it would be nice to hang in my room and count the days. A hand journal to keep track of days would be nice too. Like the ones we used to have in college.
Conditioner- Heavy duty stuff will last longer, like Redkin: All Soft. Or if anyone has died hair recently and has that small concentrated tube left over. This is very expensive here, with no apparent reason.
Pens/ sharpies- They always seem to disappear or run out of ink. Sharpie fine points (like a pen) are awesome here, and I can tell when someone has boosted mine.
Crystal Light Live Active/ Propel packets- Also like gold in the world of treated water. Plus the LiveActive helps with digestion and Propel has electrolytes and vitamins which help fight dehydration etc in the land of sand.
Hair ties- Duh. They break all the time.
Disposable razor blades- It's a treat to be able to shave. I will take basic stick or Venus disposable tips. For special occasions throw in shaving cream!
Food Objects: beef jerky, nuts (love wasabi almonds), Oreos, granola bars, candy corn, etc. In general items that would keep and taste good.
Dramamine- The travel conditions here are nightmarish on my motion sickness. Help me out here...

In conclusion, a special thanks to Krystal and Amelia who have already sent me amazing packages with what they claim was nothing. What is nothing to you is gold to me. Thank you so much. I love you guys!

Take care everyone. Don't think I don't miss you.
Love, Alys

I'm pretty sure that mornings here are the worst. I never want to get up. I have enough fans on me so that I actually feel cold and use a sheet to cover up. Getting up means accepting that I will out into the world and sweat like a beast, screw up language, and play Devon for yet another day. It means bugs will seemingly attack me, I will long for solid ground, closed toes shoes, and air conditioning, and that in some way or another Senegalese culture will annoy me for another day. Yup, mornings are the worst.

But luckily something delightful generally happens at some point in the day, and it makes things better. Yesterday the health volunteers came over to use the internet and we had a nice chat about Africa (by that I mean the side effects of Malaria pills). After, my Dad and I drove them to the store. Then I was going to meet up with my friends from Texas, but as I was sick my Dad drove me all the way to their door. He also walked me inside to make sure I was ok, and actually meeting people who were waiting for me. Very nice of him.

Clearly we are down to the little things, like it's nice to get a ride from my Dad instead of walking. It's nice to be able to speak English a little, it's nice to have friends that buy all your beers (don't ask why I'm sick and drinking... you would too if it was cold and free in Africa), and when I finally got back home my Mom had made me soup for dinner. One because she knows I don't like West African-style couscous and two because I'm sick and she knows, from Devon, that soup makes Americans feel better (the first thing I'm happy to hear about from Devon).

That's all for now. Will try to keep my head up and only write to you in the evenings when I've been having a good day.
Love, Alys

Inshallah (God willing) this letter won't get erased before I've finished it. The interesting thing is, this word is like a catch all excuse for anything that the Senegalese mildly intend to do, but is reasonably certain they will not be able to accomplish- at least by the proposed timing. I would equate it to a "yeah right." For example, I told the Catholic priest I was going to come to church last Sunday to meet the congregation. He said "Inshallah." Only he was right, because by Saturday I had a serious cold that made me sleep most of Sunday, never leaving the house. Sometimes, I start to feel like it's a curse.

Anyway, about my life in Senegal: I just spent 9 weeks learning French. I feel like I'm fairly decent. I can generally express my desires or thoughts. By the time I graduated the program I really feel I had better French then the Japanese have English coming to Hino. So that's a little plus.

For as much ambiguity as I went through figuring out where in the world I would be whilst joining the Peace Corps, it felt like a 180 degree change of direction after that. My program director asked for assignment and location suggestions. So, after spending a few weeks in my training site, learning what the current volunteer was doing, and adjusting to life here... I asked to be permanently assigned to Mboro. I asked for this (remember that if I ever start to complain) and they gave it to me- no questions. Pretty cool.

Mboro is an almost beach town, 3 kilometers inland (a short $0.25 taxi ride) and lucky enough to be built up by a phosphorous mine. The town is quite western compared to almost everything in country. My family (part of the wealthiest middle class or poorest top class) has western furniture, the ability to eat vegetables at every meal, 2 TVs, an oscillating fan in almost every room, a maid and another women that does laundry, and a backyard full of fruit trees. I have my own room (every volunteer does) but with a half bath (western toilet and sink!). I have windows that have Venetian style slats that open and close. The walls are painted concrete and roof is metal sheets. The floor is a darker concrete. I have a double bed with giant mosquito net, a desk and chair, small dresser, and lamp... all made of wood. I just bought a mirror.

These days my only job is getting to know the community and learn Wolof. This will go on for 3 months. At the end of this, I should have a decent idea of a handful of projects to take back to a 3 week conference with other business volunteers. There we'll get start-up techniques and development planning training, etc, specifically tailored to Senegal. There are so many ideas I have... like start a community trash collection and compost pile collaboration, start a radio station for health and business tips to be broadcasted, reopen the fruit product transformation plant that was closed, start a community employment board for the maids and households that want them, and have adult beginner entrepreneurial education classes. The list goes on.


Sunday, October 25

No Communication

My internet is still not working in my new house. I am basically used to having limited internet access for the past few weeks. But then my phone also decided to quit working. After a few hours of trying, and soliciting aid from Josh's host brother in obtaining repairs, I've paid 4,000 CFA ($8) and have to wait until the next day to retrieve the device. Needless to say, I hoped that it was fixed, but alas no. I got my money back and was told it was unrepairable; that I would need to buy a new one. However, because I'm a foreigner, I needed to find someone with time to go to the store to buy one with me. This will take a whole weekend and cost me 14,000 CFA ($28).

And in the mean time, I have no method of calling Devon (my predecessor) to come fix the internet. I can't call my coworkers to arrange a time to start working. I can't communicate with my friends to tell them about the ridiculous walk home I had with Josh (who thought walking through a treacherous field at night, with one flashlight- which he held & walked at least 10 feet in front of me- was a good idea). And the worst yet, is I'm fairly certain my sister was going to call me during this phone-less time. It is something small that is still highly anticipated. The culmination of merely pondering these facts has led me down a path of loneliness...

Thursday, October 22

Day 2

My second whole day seemed almost less productive than the first, though that's not possible. I woke up early and had breakfast with my family. Then I went with my Mom to her maternal school (as the French say, or day care) for a few hours. I didn't freak out; I tried to enjoy the kids. It wasn't completely accomplished, but not a disaster either.

After a few hours my Mom asked me to take half the kids and teach them to color inside the lines. The kids don't speak French (not that I really do either), so I was left to use two of my ten Wolof words (yes and no) to explain. A small sense of pride flared when they understood the task.

My second youngest brother became sick, and was picked up by my Dad half way through the morning. I took the opportunity to bail. We drove to the health post (like an emergency clinic) and I assume made an appointment for later as no one took a look at my brother. (As a side bar, when I asked my Mom later what had happened I was told they thought he had Malaria and he had taken been given some medicine to reduce his fever... he is "better.")

After this I spend some time reading while my brother took a nap in my room under the fan. In what is quickly becoming a routine, I had a pre-lunch hour long conversation with my oldest brother in French (with some English). The topics are also getting progressively more intense. Yesterday was the school system and his wanting to become an engineer. Today was philosophy, science versus religion, and Islam. Then again, what is uncomfortable for me is small talk for them... so maybe things are just chugging along as normal.

Wednesday, October 21

Day 1

Today is my first full day on my own schedule, at my site, as a volunteer.

My successes for the day are reviewing my African finances (analyzing, portioning, and setting a budget), having successful conversations with my brother and mother that lasted for about an hour each, learning a few new Wolof words, and NOT taking a nap.

My failures are not knowing my brother's name (Issa; I find out later), not completing unpacking, taking longer than necessary to review the finances, not eating breakfast (my family's version of failure), and not taking enough showers in the day.

Must focus on the accomplishments, and do one little thing for myself each day. Yesterday, little America time was when I watched a movie. Today, it was meeting up with Josh and the Texans for beers.

Tuesday, October 20

Starting Over; Mboro Again

Installing was simultaneously uneventful and tiring. I haven't used French in a week, which didn't help. We started by parading Christine around Tivaouane. The prefere (regional capital), the gendarmarie (state police), the offices of her counter parts... and lastly dropping her and all possessions off at her new residence. After a short ride, we arrived in Mboro. For so many others arrival was a source of extreme anxiety, but not me. I'm already familiar with Mboro. I directed my program director and our Senegalese driver to the mayor's office. I had already met my family, my coworkers, my town, and my town's history.

The point when I briefly explained my knowledge of a few neighborhoods' beginnings was when I realized I wasn't scared of installing. I was scared that I had already completed the required activities of other Volunteer's first few weeks at site. And at that point I thought, well then what do I do now?

I'd like to walk into the Mayor's office tomorrow morning and acquire an office. Set up shop. And start building a game plan.

However, the pace of the Senegalese is different. While I may know the town and a few of its treasured inhabitants, the town doesn't really know me. My job is to put myself out there. Simply coming and going and conducting a few transactions within the town is not sufficient. Now is the time for me to sit down with every other person and have a conversation about life, work, and culture. A trust must be gained. Where one in the US needs only to state their intentions and ability in order to gain acceptance and cooperation, the people of Senegal are not so easily persuaded.

It is said that dating commences one year after having met a person, and in general most other relationships follow the same guidelines. You must know a person inside and out before proper trust is earned and important matters are divulged. But really, who can wait that long to be productive?

Sunday, October 18

End of Training Celebration

After leaving Mboro for the last time as a trainee, we began the formal end of training celebrations. For starters, we each invited one member from our training families to Thies for a lunch party. My host mom came, although it was a tossup between her and Marie Terese. Lunch was chicken in rice bowls with pickled veggies. The car from Mboro was late so I didn't actually get to eat with my family.

During a mass production of Senegalese tea, the PC brought in musicians for entertainment. There were 2 different drum circles that traded off. The beats were mesmerizing and moved quite a few people to dance. When the circle members danced it was Narr dancing from Mauritania and reflected Middle Eastern themes. The guests shared African dance moves; Americans attempted to join.

Later there were speeches and an awards ceremony. Seeing the pride on each family member's face felt more like a graduation ceremony than the one that followed the next day. My mom and I held hands, kissed, and danced together often.

The next morning, we got up early to don traditional cloths (me in my blue pregnant looking number) loaded on to two air conditioned buses and, with additional land cruisers and a police escort, drove straight through traffic to Dakar. We stopped at the house of the US Ambassador to Senegal (whose house is labeled as Embassy territory) where we piled into a grand living room for the swearing in ceremony.

Representatives from NGOs, and similar PC organizations from other countries gathered to celebrate. The actual ceremony seemed short at 1.5 hours. There were speeches in 5 languages: French, English, Wolof, Pulaar, & Mandinka. We abruptly took an oath that I can barely remember the words to... except "protecting... against all enemies, foreign and domestic," which I feel is something that was previous undisclosed. Protect how? By talking peace into them?

Anyway, after giving my life to my country via oath, and receiving what should barely pass as a certificate from various Senegalese governmental branches we enjoyed drinks and hors d'oeuvres in the garden. Following this the new volunteers were shipped to the American Club (actually Atlantic Club, but affectionately and informally renamed for its similarity to the US with all the ex-pats that float around). Drinks were shared before a long bus ride (without an escort, but with traffic) back to Thies.

Back in Thies, we quickly realized the center was done feeding us... and headed out to dinner on the town. After an extensively long power nap (oops) I barely made it back up in time for the middle of the celebration party organized by my training class at the Catholic compound nearby (aka Beer Garden). The party offered mixers, balloons, glow-sticks, fireworks, cookies & peanuts, candles & music... a good time was had by all.

Tuesday, October 13

French vs Wolof

The anxiety of staging is over. I passed French with intermediate high, one step above where I needed to be (and already was) for PC, but also one step below where I wanted. I've had conversations with my language trainer, technical trainer, and country director about where to go from here... but I'm conflicted. I don't need a tutor for French. I don't think I can learn 2 languages at once. I've been told I need to keep a good base in French and when comfortable move to Wolof. I've been told I'll be a better volunteer with Wolof... and yet I don't want to learn it. I've met volunteers that left French behind to learn Wolof, but feel they haven't made a big enough difference with their work. My strategy for now is to just see how week one goes...

Sunday, October 4

Catholic Mass

Going to mass has been quite the experience on occasion. The Catholic Church is the only one in town and we only have time to go on Saturday nights (during training we have class on every day of the week!). The choir is by far the most worthwhile part of the event. Songs in French with an African drum beat and electric keyboard are so beautiful; simple yet uplifting. They remind me of how beautiful Africa can be on days when I'm down with a mental illness called homesickness. It's a severe medical issue sometimes.

Anyway, the pews are made of wood, decades from new, and form four columns of rows. From the center aisle the women sit on the left while the men on the right. Children and elders sit towards the front. The sermon is given in French with some Wolof. According to another volunteer, the program is identical to other Catholic services. It lasts about 1.5 hours.

Prayers are sung because nothing is written down. There are no prayer books. One fellow trainee set out to find one, but to no avail. He will have to buy one in Thies or Dakar. I couldn't tell you what communion consists of because I haven't taken it, but from a distance it seems to be the same cracker and water duo.

It may be important to remember that when all else fails this is a place where no one talks to each other and that aside from the stand up/ sit down dance there is a potential for over an hour's worth of alone time with my thoughts... or listening to French.

Wednesday, September 30

Letters From Abroad- September

I found out that I'll be in the same town I'm in now, Mboro, for the next two years. The town is nice and I will likely have power and Internet all the time... But I will not have other people and I'm very scared. The worst feeling is being alone. The closest person is a half hour car ride away. Wow, I really am scared. I've already started crying.

I don't know what to do. For now I will try to find someone to get a beer with me. I'll tell others about this later...
Love you Alys

The funny thing about taking Malaria pills is A) it doesn't prevent it and B) one has crazy/vivid dreams.

A) Yes, I have Malaria. Everyone does. What the drugs do is prevent it from spreading and taking over the body. They suppresses the virus, if you will, to a manageable level. If I forget to take my pills I will get full blown Malaria in 11 days. Then I have to prick my finger, do a blood smear, eat a whole bunch of "oops" drugs, and find the nearest transport to Dakar for medical support. Scary, no? That blood smear is one good reason not to forget, I don't think I could do that.

B) Last night I had a dream that we were sitting in the middle of an empty cobble stone bridge in some European town. We brought lawn chairs and were waiting to watch fireworks. I turned to you and said "Can we be together forever?" To which you replied "Of course. I'm not marrying you, but I will love you." I said, "That's what I meant. Friends forever," and gave you a kiss on the cheek before leaning back in my chair. Then some lady came and told us we were too close for the fireworks and lit up a green perimeter... and the dream goes on from there, but does not get more interesting or less vivid.

I have never seen the Miami beach, but the one here is different from LA. There is a lot of sand and hardly any people. There is a lot of trash that washes up from the tides and in the afternoon little white crabs run around all over. But there is water in sight... not other land, no large boats, nothing. Just water. Small canoe-like fishing boats go out at dawn and dusk, but that's it. The waves are really harsh where I am, so I only have enough energy to swim for about 5 minutes. And by swim I mean stand there until a wave knocks me over and then I swim while trying to stand back up and not drink the water. The water is clear, but mostly mixed with sand because the water is so rough. Also really warm, which I'm sure is just because this is the hottest season for Senegal right now.

I am definitely in the middle of Ramadan. Even though my host family is Catholic we have Muslim relatives around all the time. I can see how hard it is for them all the time. They don't eat or drink at all during the day. This makes the people grumpy, tired, and generally stalls everything. The up side is that we eat breakfast at dark and then another fun meal a couple hours later. The mosques in town place music or prayers 24 hours a day. I'm lucky that I don't live close enough that it keeps me up at night. The music is more pleasant than the prayers. It sounds pretty usually.

Hi Friend,
Doing much better. Met my future family, saw my future room, met some cool people... and feeling much better about being here for 2 years. Not perfect, but better. Thanks again for calling and supporting my random outbursts of "I want to get out of here." Haha, hopefully it will continue to bet better. They say it does anyway.

Hi All,
I've just learned that I've been assigned to work in the same town I'm living now: Mboro. I need to confirm a few points, because I'll be changing host families, but I'm fairly certain that I'll have constant electricity (because it goes out continuously where I'm at now) and Internet wired into the house as well (also not currently available).

In addition, the town has about 20,000 people and is located north east of Dakar on the coast of Senegal. This means that the beach is only 5 kilometers away. We've been there a few times and though the waves are pretty brutal it's a great reprieve from the never ending French classes. We just had our first test after three weeks of studying and I hit novice high... The Peace Corps goal is intermediate mid (2 steps away) for end of training but my personal goal is advanced low (4 steps away right now).

The current project in my site is computer installation and integration into the learning curriculum in one of the elementary schools called One Laptop Per Child. Our town was chosen after a number of universities in the US did a drive to raise funding. The previous volunteer was successful in obtaining the award and will stay here until December to monitor the first month of school (which starts in November) to make sure the program goes smoothly. I, on the other hand, have the freedom to find my own project. I'm interested in working with lending institutions and woman's group (which are formed as a means of savings for a specific entrepreneurial project) on business models. This can be both electronic daily models, such as record keeping, and future planning models for expansion or starting a new business. This sounds pretty vague but that's because it is. I've given you the general project goals and I really do have the freedom to do whatever needs to be done, or what I can do. In a different part of the country there was a successful waste management project started where the city's plastics were put into an organized land fill or burned and the rest (food waste) started a compost that the city managed and sold to the surrounding farmers, thus a profit in which to pay for the workers managing the compost, as well as job creation. There is a rumor that the mayor of my town is very interested in start a program like this in Mboro, especially since the garbage is merely carried to the outside of town and tossed aside now. Anyway, that's as best a picture as I can paint for now of my future work in Senegal.

My training group just had our first "vacation." We pooled our funds, rented a couple of buses and two beach houses and had a great party. There are over 50 of us in the training group but we found 2 houses next to each other on the beach in Popenguine. The view was so beautiful... like something we'd seen in St. Lucia or better. It was so raw. I say that because it was back to basics. If I looked only at the beach and coast I could easily have pictured the bay in TC- it's almost the same. Water everywhere, clean and beautiful. Sand is the same. Really I just have to remember that the water is salty to realize the difference. Or turn my head because I'm in AFRICA and everything else is different. But for a few moments I could trick myself into believing I'm back up north.

Do you ever check for the weather in Thies, Senegal? I recommend it when you are feeling like Michigan weather is crappy... because it's probably not as miserable as Senegal!

It doesn't seem to change much. It's always about 85 -90* F. The humidity is generally about 75-80%. So the "feels like" temperature is about 100* with constant sweat beads all over my body. I don't think I've been completely dry in 3 weeks. It's amazing I'm not moldy... or am I?

Sunday, September 27

Small Talk

Small talk is exactly the opposite from the US... with the exception of the weather. In the US it is appropriate to talk about things as they are. My name is, Where I come from, I did this, I like these kinds of drink and food, I don't like these things, my family structure is as such. We don't talk about religion and politics.

In Senegal, my previous statements have made a number of crowds uncomfortable. I have given way too much personal information. The origins of my real name (read yes I do have an African name) and family heritage are confusing and speak of history unknown to most Senegalese. I have mentioned not liking something- that potentially makes another person who may have given it to me in the past look poorly. I have discussed the status of my family; counting the number of people or children- thus inviting bad luck upon them.

So instead, I take on a Senegalese name and with it the heritage of my host family. Here a last name indicates at least a half an hour of conversation. Also up for discussion is the region of Africa from which my host family has descended. The religion practiced by my (real) father, and therefore myself. Am I married, how many children do I have/ want, when am I going to find a Senegalese boyfriend/ husband, will I take everyone back to America where things are a million times better? Did I vote for Barack Obama? Isn't he great? In that order, too.

Thursday, September 24

A Trainee's Day

A typical day starts when my alarm goes off at 7a and I ignore it for as long as possible. I'm already sweating. I make a dive for the bathroom before anyone can see me. Inside, at least one of the members of the cockroach family has died and ants are swarming it already. I step around this in order to go pee. We're lucky to have a Turkish toilet without a seat... and without toilet paper as well. Most families have a squat toilet, or a hole in the ground. I generally try to jump right into the shower from there. We have a bathtub that one stands in and a bucket of cold water to use with a smaller bucket... or a pipe that runs up the wall with a small shower head at the top. This is always very hot water. I generally try to make it from the shower back to the fan in my room as fast as possible. This way I won't break a sweat before I've finished toweling off. I rarely make it. I don't bother using mirrors anymore. I pin my hair up off my neck and out of my face and call it good. Make up, blow dryers and hair products are all in the past.

I eat breakfast. Another trainee lives two doors down, so we walk to class together. Mboro is the land of sand, so we trudge through it in our flip flops. The children along the route wait for us to pass by in anticipation of the perfect moment to say "Bonjour Toubab." Toubab is Wolof for ghost... so they use it describe white foreigners. Until noon we study French at the house of our instructor.

I come back and take another shower to wash off a layer of sweat. Lunch is at 2 and is the most African and important meal of the day. We sit in the courtyard on little benches in a circle. There is a first come first serve rule in the bowl, so every eats very fast and generally don't talk. We drink water after, not during a meal. Afterward, the town rests for a number of hours, like a siesta though no one uses the name. It just is expected that no one works in the heat of day. It is also a time to make Senegalese tea. This is quite an experience that I will need to explain at another time.

Afternoon activities can incorporate a number of things. Sometimes it's more French class, other times we interact with businesses in the community. Occasionally we escape to the local bar for a drink or to the beach for a brief swim.

The beach is 3.5 miles away from the town, so we generally hire a car to drive us there. The cost is equivalent to $0.25 per person, which is inexpensive even to our new standard. The waves can be treacherous at 3 to 4 feet, and thus exhausting when we get knocked under about every other one. The water is clean, though, and the view is expansive- almost dauntingly so. The sand is spottily littered with the waste of the people who live in the mini-village on the coast. The coastal people utilize small kayak like fishing boats at dusk and dawn to make their living. The 5 foot swordfish they haul in daily are carried by placing the middle of the fish on the top of the head and the sword and tail are wrapped under each arm. There are millions of little white crabs that come out at dusk and take over the beach. It's impossible to not step on one... almost.

In the evening my family gathers around the television for American TV in French. CSI, Lost, Grey's, The Simpsons, Family Guy, Desperate Housewives, etc. If you're thinking that possibly there is a show that is not translated into French and pushed on the Senegalese masses... you'd be wrong. And this is the impression they have of Americans! All the episodes running now are from the middle of the last season. It seems to be that when one season ends in the USA, that same season then begins elsewhere in the world. This is exciting to me because the most recent episodes are fresh in my mind and thus help my French comprehension and learning, but also because I'm sure I'll be fluent by the time the next season starts and thus I'll watch future seasons and won't be that far behind when I get back! Oh the simple pleasures of us lazy Americans.

Back in Senegal, we don't eat dinner until about 10p. Generally I'm exhausted after, so I take my evening shower (if you're counting that's 3 showers a day) and retire to my room to read a bit before falling asleep. If I'm lucky, the power won't go out taking with it the fan's ability to keep the sweat just far enough at bay to let me sleep. I wonder how much of this will change when training is over?

Sunday, September 20


Everywhere is hot. But it's hotter elsewhere.

When I'm casually talking to a Senegalese person in town, and I happen to mention where I'm headed they will, without a doubt, tell me that place is hot. Yet when I'm inland and I mention that I'm headed back to my town of Mboro, people always go on a tangent about how hot it is on the coast.

The north is hot because it's part of the Sahara Desert. The east side of the country is hot because it's so far inland from the cool coastal winds. The delta is hot because of the water retention. The coast is hot because there aren't many trees to keep cool.

My opinion, not that you asked, is it's hot anywhere but your home because that's the only place where you know all the tricks to stay cool.

And also, don't tell me it will be cooler in the winter months. Talk to me about cold when it starts snowing, because 70* is not an occasion to wear a wool scarf and hat. I'm from Michigan for Pete's sake.

Sunday, September 13


If I use my left hand I am controlled by Satin... according to Senegalese culture and religion. The simple task of not using this hand for anything but wiping myself is something I screw up daily.

Do not shake someone's hand with the left hand, or wave. Do not reach for something with the left hand. Don't use a fork, drink from a glass, or eat bread with this hand.

Just let it sit there limp on my side and DO NOT USE IT.

This seemed to be going well until I forgot to use it in the bathroom...

Sunday, September 6


My body has started to adjust. I was cold for the first time last night and when I woke up and looked at my alarm clock/ thermometer it was only 86*. Only. I only break out into a sweat once while I was running around packing to go back to village. I didn't carry my water bottle around like a maniac today either. Things are starting to look up...

Sunday, August 30

Letters From Abroad- August

Hi Family,
I've made it. I'm in one piece physically. Honestly though, having a rough time getting my head around things. Need to keep reminding myself that this is just like summer camp only permanent and with squat toilets. There are a lot of people here and it's a bit hard to make instant friends and get acquainted with everyone. Hopefully when we break off into small groups it will get better. My french skills from Rosetta aren't that helpful either. Bummer. Already taking malaria pills. More shots tomorrow. Can't wait for the side effects.
Write me.
Much love, Alys

I have to confess, I was really unhappy and depressed my first day here. I was thinking every two seconds that I just want to go home and I'm stupid for doing this. But then I'd say I would not approve of me if I quit so early. I would be so ashamed!!! I couldn't go back to Hino and my house. I would have nothing to do with myself. I need to be here.

Then day two was much better.

And day 3 is ok, but a little scary like day one. It's really hard for an anti social person to make friends especially when there are 50 other people here trying to make new best friends too. I'm trying though. I'm making an effort. Although some people do not like my sense of humor. How is that possible? I'm waiting until Monday when we split into small groups of 4 to 5 people for the rest of our training... then I can get to know friends those people.

The Bleach Story.
We have to filter and then bleach our water here... but in my first weeks in country I didn't have a dropper for the bleach so I was doing it by hand. And then one night, while it was a million degrees in my room at 2am, and the power was out, I poured free hand in the dark. Subsequently, I drank too much bleach and had to be evacuated to Dakar a day later because of the burning in my throat and continuous throwing up. The med team kindly advised me that I didn't have to be here. Great. I had an endoscopy where I striped down and a huge man (who may or may not have looked like Frankenstein- I was mildly delirious from dehydration) held me down while they shoved a camera down my throat. Turns out I'm fine, with a mild case of acid reflux. Great.

On the way back the some current volunteers along for the ride convinced our driver to take the road less travelled to Lac Rose (Pink Lake) appropriately named because the water is actually pink. Surrounding the lake were my first glimpses at camels. Then five minutes more through sand dunes and we were on the beach! The ocean, my first African coastline. The whole thing was surreal, awesome. We drove the land cruiser about 3 feet from the water for an hour back to my village. We went through a neighboring village just as the fishermen brought the days catch ashore... swordfish about 5-6 feet in length! And then there were the millions of crabs running out of our way as we were raced down the coast. Almost made the trip to Dakar worthwhile. Almost.

Loving is a strong word, but I'm making it. Things are a roller coaster here between wanting to cry "Uncle" and really enjoying all the new and different stimuli. Of course I'm still in training and spend all my time trying to learn French, but I'm sure things will calm down some time in October.

Daily Food

Breakfast is very French. We take about half a loaf of french bread and smear chocolate spread, peanut butter, butter, or jelly on the inside. Then there is instant coffee mix, which the Senegalese take with at least 6 or 7 cubes of sugar. Occasionally my family will make eggs with lots of oil, butter, onions, and pepper. Other popular choices by volunteers are bean and onion sandwiches (egg or mayo optional), millet with sweat milk, or yogurt.

Lunch is the main meal of the day. We sit on leather mats on the ground around a big metal bowl. We get a spoon to eat with. Inside is a bed of rice with boiled meat (beef or fish) and various boiled veggies; some you'd recognize and some you wouldn't. This is the biggest meal of the day, and one mostly like to have visitors.

After we enjoy a portion of seasonal fruit. Mango, watermelon, banana, grapefruit. All of it delicious and my favorite part of the day.

Dinner, like breakfast, is taken at a table. It's still boiled meat but generally with beans, fried potatoes (homemade French fries), or noodles. Yes, noodles.

Sunday, August 23

Stay Tuned

Ten days in country and I'm still flipping hourly between fatigue, mild panic, and excitement for the possibilities. I've seen a lot of "different" things that I may never find enough time to write about; from the swordfish to the camel, the plethora of mango and the lack of toilet paper. I've already experienced the efficiency and callus of the medical team, and apparently lived to tell about it. I've laughed, cried, danced, ate, and even found a beer. This is only the beginning. There are two more glorious years to come... so stay tuned. I will not always have access to the internet, but I will post journals from my personal diary and little blips of excitement when I have time.

Saturday, August 15

In the beginning...

Arrival was, to put it mildly, overwhelming. As my closest friends and immediate family members can attest, I had a rough time. In light of such, I had the foresight to hold off on starting my blog until I was settled. I did however send numerous emails to the above mentioned and I will begin my blog by posting excerpts from those crazed emails. Along with this, I'm adding notes from my private journal and pictures taken by myself and friends.

Welcome to Alys in Africa...