Pictures from Senegal

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.