Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, September 30

Letters From Abroad- September

Sister,
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


Chase,
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.

Kazumi,
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.


Papi,
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.


Papi,
Do you ever check weather.com 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?
-Alys

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

Hot

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

Lefty

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

Adjust

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...