Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, December 27

Christmas

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

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.