Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, April 28

Weight Loss

Shall I dare talk about the elephant in the room? Or rather the elephant that has left the building. Yes, I speak of my weight loss. If you’re a volunteer in country it’s about to get awkwardly personal. As for my friends and family, it’s never hard to admit flaws, but I hope it’ll be easier now that I’m doing better. So here goes…

Let’s call a spade a spade; before I came to Senegal I was overweight and disgusted with myself. A part of me knew I would have the opportunity to change my eating habits and revamp my nutritional intake. I go so far as to admit it’s one of the many reasons I came, though I never did at the time. In the end it wasn’t all too significant- just part of the pros. I went so far as to pack away a few sets of cloths in various sizes in anticipation of my return, and donated the rest to charity. There exist pictures of me from a shower and wedding I went to last July, and even at my best I felt horribly ugly on the outside.

Though, since this is full disclosure, from the moment I landed in Africa, weight has been one of the last things on my mind. Adjusting to heat, bugs, language, culture, and new types of food… all of it was very distracting to say the least. After a month it occurred to me that some of my pants were a bit loose. Two months in I confirmed having lost 20 pounds.

It was a combination of a lot of things, I’m sure. I had so many cases of diarrhea in the beginning it became a joke with my host family. It got to a point where I would run out mid sentence, come back to finish the sentence and keep going with the conversation- not even bothering to explain where I’d run off to. I spent a whole week in bed with a flu (vomiting and diarrhea), plus a head cold (serious congestion), and creeping eruption (worm infection under the skin that made my foot itch like no other). I lived on oral rehydration salts, bread and beans, and fruit that week.

Then there’s my battle with the fish. It became painfully apparent that I would have to come up with a better solution to my total aversion to fish. Every time we ate it, I threw it up. The taste alone started to make me gag- even if it was just eating rice and veggies prepared or sitting in the same bowl. I never ate fish in the States for this same reason, but I swear it’s more pungent here. When training was over I self diagnosed myself allergic and told my permanent host family I would make a separate meal for myself whenever the family was having dishes with fish. These days I’ll eat a salad, egg sandwiches, soup, millet porridge, or pasta when fish is on the menu. And yeah, I’m kind of a disgrace to other volunteers because I live in a coastal town that is very abundant with fish. Get over it.

Of course, there’s a whole other side to this story. The food itself wasn’t appetizing in the beginning. While I almost cried the first night we had pasta (not thinking it existed here- evidence of my naivety), I was confused by everything else. Onions are literally a part of every dish except millet porridges; they were driving me nuts. Meat is cut so as to include the fatty bits (for flavor?) and I thus I didn’t eat much of it either. Veggies and meat in general are fairly expensive compared to rice, pasta, and millet so there are typically only one or two carrots, potatoes, okra, or bitter tomatoes to be shared amongst the family. Sauces are colors I’d never imagined sauce could be, and made of leaves I didn’t think one could eat. And when you take all that away, you’re left with rice. Honestly, I got bored of rice… and it didn’t seem to fill me either.

There’s a small factor of timing of meals. Breakfast is early, 7a. Lunch is later than I was used to… at 2p. This being right in the heat of the day, it’s still hard sometimes to work up an appetite in the cool season. So you can imagine the difficulty back in the hot rainy season. Dinner is at 10p or later. Most days I nearly fall asleep waiting for it. It’s hard to eat when you’re half asleep because you have no energy because you hardly eat. Confusing, no?

Lastly, a few words should be given to the endless walking that became necessary to get around in Senegal. If walking in the heat were easy, adding the ever changing sandy terrain made it a bit more difficult. Admittedly, I feel constantly dehydrated, but that can’t have had too much of an impact after the first week. So you see, portion control, lack of processed foods, change in food substance, illness, meal timing, and walking all contributed to the weight loss program that is Peace Corps (eat that, Jenny Craig!).

In the beginning losing a lot of weight (and somewhat quickly) was a cultural problem. My host family during training, under traditional customs, was embarrassed, even ashamed, that their guest was losing weight. It was a sign that I was not being treated properly nor given enough food as the guest. They would try to force me to finish whatever was left in a bowl. And what’s worse, to continue to eat after throwing up… even if it made me do it again. I kept trying to explain that I was happy to lose weight, and that it was a good thing in my culture, something I needed, but in a place where large women are traditionally seen as beautiful my explanation was lost anyone listening. I felt like a failure both in the states, and now in Senegal. Awesome. They eventually started to come around. Especially when I told them how happy my Dad was, and even went so far as to say ‘thank you’ to them on his behalf.

These days things aren’t as dramatic as in the beginning. In the last 6 months I’ve lost another 30 pounds. I know it seems like a lot, but trust me I had it too loose… and probably still more if I work at it. I eat because I have to or its time, not because I’m excited about meals like I used to be in the States. Admittedly though, I’ve started to enjoy the food. Onions no longer annoy me. There are meals I love and can’t wait to eat when I see them being prepared. There are others I don’t care for, but I’m eating more and more of them each time. I also enjoy that none of the cloths I brought here fit anymore. I still wear the shirts, but I have had to import or purchase/ produce everything from the waist down… because the old stuff was falling off, literally. And who doesn’t love a slimmer shape? In fact, my host brother saw those pictures from last July not too long ago and was astonished that it was even me. He told me how good I looked now, and even gave me a hug and words of congratulations. That’s kind of a big deal in a country lacking PDA and words of encouragement (disapproval is much more prevalent).

I don’t know if my problem was what I was eating, or how much of it I was eating… but I’m changing those habits every day here. I’d like to tell you I’ve noticed how much more energy I have, or how great I feel, or how I don’t get short of breath after long walks… but in truth none of that has changed from State side. I’m fairly certain it’s the lack of proper nutrients and climate. I’m getting enough nutrients to survive and I’m generally used to the climate, but it’s not a perfect world. Some days I wonder if I’ll ever be 100% here. And then I push those thoughts out and enjoy the ride that I’m on now. A slimmer, healthier person is only one aspect of the better person I hope to be by the end of my service.

Sunday, April 25

Sustainable

In a few of the towns surrounding mine, there has been a lot of development work with exporting artisan products to the States and Europe. Grass baskets of all shapes, sizes and colors, jewelry, kitchen décor, leather products… the list seems to grow every day. And people in the states seem to be more and more aware. Wolof baskets are featured in Elle Décor Magazine and sold in Pier One. Purses are for sale in Banana Republic.

It wasn’t always this glorious though, and I will attempt to tell the story of the baskets in my area. Back in the day, woman from villages brought their baskets to the weekly market and competed against each other for minuscule sales at prices that were often below the cost to produce. Volunteers started by talking to the women about basic costing and pricing concepts… attempting to illustrate the losses they were incurring through their undercutting of the competition. There was talk of organizing the sellers, encouraging them to band together against buyers and hold a fixed market price.

A few years back, by chance, one travelling volunteer came across another expat who happened to be in the import business and looking for new endeavors in Western Africa. Baskets produced in the northern region of Thies came into play. And order was placed. The order was too large for any small group of village women, so it was decided that the multiple villages would need to be utilized to fill the order. And so it became apparent that a coalition was needed. Women from surrounding villages could join by paying a small fee. In return they would receive a membership card, a small portion of the order requirements, and guaranteed fair wages per basket produced (which coincidentally were higher than anything they could hope to be paid in the traditional market, and yet somehow lower than the rest of the world’s prices).

Volunteers came in to play once again when the management of basket production. Daily visits to the villages we made to explain and demonstrate quality control practices. Material purchase advances had to be made, and the volunteers went door to door to distribute the funds. Logistics had to be coordinated to get the baskets from each village to the port in Dakar. Peace Corps Volunteers took on the tasks of organizing donkey carts, warehousing, and trucking. The first order was filled; an apparent success stateside. Another order would be placed months later.

Peace Corps strives to promote and assist in projects demonstrating sustainability. Help the people help themselves. Granted this can’t always be done from the get go… so the first order was managed more under the guise of “get it done” and hope for the best; the best being a continuous flow of follow up orders. In the orders that followed, volunteers strove to teach still more business practices such as inventory control, scheduling, and price negotiations. But in the end, the ultimate Peace Corps goal is to remove the volunteer from the picture entirely. With this in mind, the importing agency developed working relations with the local English speaking Senegalese community members; in the hopes that they could perform the functions of the Peace Corps Volunteers.

Good things have come out of these few small orders: increased income and standard of living for whole villages involved, competition becoming comrades, and increased business savvy. And now, orders are starting to pick up dramatically. There’s talk that Cost Co wants to buy. While exciting news, I can’t help but wonder. This type of order is way beyond current production levels, meaning more villages would need to sign on to the alliance, as well as trained in the business practices. Increased staffing needs would mean the Peace Corps would probably have to help, instead of exiting the project. And then what happens when Elle Décor Magazine comes out with a different product du jour, and Wolof grass baskets become the new (or should I say washed out trend of) wicker? What will happen to those families in rural villages of West Africa who depended on that steady income?

The original importer in question came to speak to my training class. One of her messages was that in order for the villagers to survive the fickle Western consumer’s change of winds, they would need to be able to change their product to follow the trend. But I ask you this, do you currently own something made of wicker? I don’t have any of the answers, or even one possible suggestion. I don’t work on the project now, but if called to I would certainly come forward; I would teach the principles of product change and adaptation. But I’m not entirely sure I like the taste of this Kool Aid.

Wednesday, April 21

25 More Random African Things.

1) Poop is Wolof for poop.
2) The packaging of powdered milk advertises that it is fat filled… and it’s a good thing.
3) Stop signs are red and white, octagonal, and say "STOP." This took me months to realize as they hardly exist anywhere. I’ve either seen three of them… or seen the same one three times, it’s unclear.
4) The first American company I saw in Senegal was Shell Gasoline, followed by Hertz Rent-A-Car, Aldo, Guess, Diesel and Curves. Rumors have circulated about an Apple store, but it remains to be seen.
5) Male PC Volunteers have starting wearing head bands. I’m worried.
6) In the US, traffic jams prevent you from getting to work on time. In West Africa, stopping to greet friends and neighbors has the same effect: mandatory and time consuming.
7) On any given day, I can see any one of the following animal body parts in various states of decomposition in the street: chicken head, leg of sheep, squished frog, fish guts, unknown animal jaw, and the list goes on…
8) One of the goals of the current Mayor's administration is to put public restrooms in our town's market area. Others include: rainfall drainage infrastructure, new school classrooms, annexing the distance from town to the beach as part of Mboro, and city wide trash management program.
9) If I have an extreme case of diarrhea it’s perfectly acceptable, neigh welcome, to run to the nearest house and ask for the squat toilet. But they’ll probably ask you to stay for a meal and tea.
10) Peace Corps Volunteers have been in Senegal since 1963, this year we will double the number of volunteers in country to total over 300.
11) The Catholic community in Mboro is hard core and fasts all day long during Lent. It’s a cultural thing I’m sure, to give them street credit with all the Muslims that fast during Ramadan (which is only about 30 days). They also give up a bad habit and don’t eat meat on Fridays. Some “extremists” don’t eat meat on any Friday, Lent or no.
12) Senegal may be a 3rd world country, with poverty meaning anyone NOT making at least $1 a day, but that doesn’t stop its people from holding numerous fundraisers to send money to Haiti.
13) There is a rap song that when translated has a title of “On the Head of My Mom.” Hmm.
14) It’s a good thing Akon came out to Senegal for Independence Day (Apr 4th) because people were just starting to forget about him.
15) The concept of preventative maintenance does not exist. Things are fixed after they break; simple as that.
16) All sort of yearly planning is done around the rainy season (July through September): home improvements before, gardening during, holidays after.
17) Senegal has a unique type of wrestling, pronounced “Loot,” where the first person to fall down looses. It usually last about 1 minute… but there is 4 hours of entertainment leading up to the “big match.”
18) Follow up note: one famous wrestler renamed himself Mike Tyson. Genius.
19) There is a Senegalese version of MTV. It plays Wolof, French, and American music videos. I’d like to tell you that the American videos are the same ones that are popular in the states, but I’m afraid to check the charts.
20) Prostitution is legal; but frowned upon religiously and thus still and underground operation.
21) I live in a coastal city but have yet to find a single person who knows how to swim. What is that?
22) Except in major cities (read: where there are large populations of foreigners) there is no such thing as a store that sells more than one type of commodity. Hardware, fabric, electronics, prier mats, kitchen utensils, bread, meat, jewelry, shoes, hand bags, sheets, processed food products, fresh food products, gardening tools… all these items have their own special vendor and location.
23) Although the export standards are very high, the in country commercial retail standards don’t even come close. However, some still find registration too complicated and that’s probably why people sell product out of baskets, off tables, and not in a stationary place.
24) Sometimes I find a fruit that looks familiar and go to taste it, only to realize I was way off. This is how I found melon while looking for papaya... turns out melon is football shaped here. And there's a mini mango season that tastes more like a pear apple than a mango, even though I was actually trying to buy ditax. Also, there is a cranberry look-alike I've yet to fully decipher.
25) There is no such thing as a Senegalese cook book. Recipes are passed generation to generation. I’ve been interviewing my host Mom, but I doubt I’ll learn all my favorites in time.

Sunday, April 18

Summer Camp!

I think it’s about time I officially start calling myself a 1st year volunteer; as a new round of trainees have come and work projects are starting to require my attention. One project in particular has taken over my everyday thought process: a girls summer camp.

The idea started in our last phase of training, when we heard an inspiring presentation about a camp held on the other side of the country that incorporates many different sectors of Peace Corps volunteer work. “I wanna do that” was the first thing that came to my mind. Luckily, I wasn’t alone. There are 6 other women in my regional area of the country that also got here last August. We’d already started meeting once monthly for western food, drinks, English, and general relaxation… and of course shop talk. Apparently, we all had the same thought with regards to starting a summer camp in our own region, so a couple weeks after our last round of training we met up for lunch and our first meeting.

We decided on utilizing an existing scholarship program that rewards the top 7th, 8th, and 9th grade girls in each class by paying tuition fees for the following school year (about $10) as an incentive for the girls to stay in school. This is a pretty big problem in Senegal as young women have large amounts of household responsibilities that prevent them from studying. If a student doesn’t pass the end of year exam they’ll get held back. If you’re held back enough times, you get permanently kicked out of the public school system. It’s rare that these kids will then get a chance to go to private school, as it typically costs much more. If that weren’t bad enough, still other girls drop out all together because they marry young and get pregnant. So, when finding about a purpose for the camp, we couldn’t help but think about the perfect “work/ life balance” that American women are taught from a young age.

More volunteers were recruited to help with the project, and staffing positions were assigned. Yours truly, with her aversion to children, was appointed chief financier. My immediate responsibilities are to write the proposal to secure grant funding for the project, and when camp time comes I’ll be in charge of the money, but also of monitoring and recording all purchases in order to submit a final report to the grant committee. Other volunteers hold positions such as Camp Director, Camp Food Coordinator, Documentarian/Videographer, Lead Counselor and Camp Counselor. We plan to have Senegalese counterparts that will job shadow our positions so that in future years the whole project can be turned over to the community, thus creating project sustainability without Peace Corps volunteers. We’ve also started a website for the people involved to share files and keep a group calendar of deadlines. It is our hope that this over-documented project will make it that much easier should any other volunteer wish to start a similar project.

As far as day by day, the camp will have one day dedicated to each of the following topics: health (mental health and dealing with stress, malaria prevention, sexual pressures, hygiene, and nutrition), environment (agricultural related topics like container gardening, trash sorting, and composting), gender development (the woman’s role), business skills (costing, pricing, and money management), and future planning (actually creating goals for the short and long term with these girls). In between all that educational bits will be exercise, arts and crafts, and games. In the evening we’re planning movie night, game night, a talent show, a dance, and more. I dare say it’s going to be a hell of a good time, if we can pull it off.

We are fortunate enough to partner up with the University of Bambey (a town a few hours away from Mboro). They're so excited about our proposed program that they offered to donate their campus to host us for the week. Lodging, classroom facilities and equipment, and even their dining hall and staff will be available to us. A major score! This will cut our project costs dramatically and, hopefully, be the beginning of a great program for the University to continue. If we're really successful, maybe in a few years other Universities in the country will copy our model. But I'm getting way ahead of myself and that's out of my service time frame...

Anyway, the whole thing is set to kick off the last week of September, so there’s a lot of work to do now to write all the proposals and to get everyone on board and fix budgets… and then we wait. We’ll receive final word on funding mid-May and formally invite the girls to camp, but the rest of the to-do list won’t pick up again until August or September.

Anyway, wish us luck as we'll probably need it. And if anyone wishes to know more about the scholarship program for the local girls please send me a note and I'll get info to you.

Tuesday, April 13

100 Things I'm Concerned About

Below are things that have me concerned about leaving my life in Senegal (aka things Senegalese culture is making me do or the type of person I'm changing into):

1) I might start asking everything in the negative form. “You don’t have a pencil I can borrow, do you?”
2) I might have the urge to walk to the Post every week, because I wouldn’t trust them to deliver directly to my door.
3) I might be confused as to why I have so much leg room on my flight home.
4) I might believe that wearing makeup is pointless and time consuming (both application and removal), but then go overboard on holidays.
5) I may continue to shower 3 times a day.
6) I might take afternoon naps, regardless of whether or not I’m supposed to be working.
7) I might correct people’s English mid sentence.
8) I might be prone to hiding beef jerky in my dresser.
9) I may start beeping people (calling and hanging up before they answer, and expecting them to call me back) to save credit- or minutes.
10) I might continue to apply sun block daily like moisturizer.
11) I might walk into a room and comment on whatever you’re doing. Example: “Peace be with you. You are sitting.”
12) I might get pissed and start swearing, but not realize that you can understand my swear words because you DO speak English.
13) I may ask your child to go to the store and buy me something.
14) I might wear flip flops in the shower.
15) I might serve you dessert (instead of a real dinner) if you come over for dinner on a Sunday.
16) I might dance without moving my feet- just knees, hips, and arms.
17) I might call you racist if you don’t say “hello” to me on the street.
18) I might dress my best to go on a road trip.
19) I might carry a water bottle around obsessively. And drink mix packets, too.
20) I may sweep my room daily; carpet or no.
21) I may have to buy an oscillating fan in order to sleep.
22) I might go to the grocery store every day because processed and packaged foods won’t make sense to me. Buying in bulk won’t either.
23) I may carry anti-diarrhea meds and malaria prophylaxis in my purse at all times.
24) I might use a mosquito net as decoration, but also obsessively tuck it in before going to bed.
25) I might take an hour to order a beer, because there are more than 2 types available. And my favorite one won’t be there.
26) I may be pissed there isn’t a flashlight function on the end of my phone.
27) I might eat rice every day for lunch.
28) I may say things in a language you won’t understand.
29) I might miss spell every word in the English language.
30) I may bring you fruit if I leave town and come back.
31) I might be confused if on holidays we do more than sit in chairs staring at the ground.
32) I may offer to help pay for the rented sound system for your child’s baptism.
33) I may play my music 20 decibels too loud.
34) I might be confused if the rooster crows only at dawn.
35) I might never use a dryer again.
36) I might not buy a TV, because the screen would be too big for my eyes. And also because my computer will travel with me.
37) I might miss bissap, tamarin, and bouie juices.
38) I might be addicted to MSG.
39) I may blatantly lie about why I didn’t call you back because I’ll think you can’t dispute me.
40) I might be fashionably late to everything.
41) I may be uncomfortable using toilet paper.
42) I might make a clucking noise in the place of verbal agreement or nodding.
43) I may spend ten minutes restating something someone else has already said, because I agree with them.
44) I might try to negotiate prices at the grocery store, or maybe even Target. Definitely with cabs.
45) I might not notice when flies land on me.
46) I may stop to talk to complete strangers for long periods of time on the street.
47) I might not realize someone is hitting on me if they aren’t asking me to marry them within the first 5 minutes of conversation.
48) I might look around for the screwdriver in order to roll down the car window.
49) I may tickle your palm with my finger secretly during a hand shake to indicate wanting to sleep with you.
50) I might be deathly afraid of the rain.
51) I might dig a hole in order to bury the carcass if you tell me we are eating a large game animal for a meal.
52) I may put up post it notes of vocabulary in multiple languages.
53) I might burn my trash.
54) I might use the same piece of cloth for a sheet, robe, towel, blanket or skirt.
55) I may be overly paranoid when someone gets a fever.
56) I might think a spaghetti sandwich is normal.
57) I might not respond to my American name.
58) I might expect to be able to shop during traffic jams… and be upset when I can’t.
59) I may comment about the weather in every conversation.
60) I might wear a belly chain with beads because I’ll think it’s sexy.
61) I may call you just to say “Hello.” And then just hang up after without saying goodbye.
62) I may treat every meal like an eating contest to see who can finish first. I will not speak during this contest.
63) I may filter my water forevermore.
64) I may eat an unhealthy amount of mangos.
65) I might not hate children as much as I did when I left. Or I might hate them more. It’s still unclear.
66) I might be used to the sound of children getting beaten and therefore get rejected when applying for a job at child protective services.
67) I might beat your kids if they don’t greet me.
68) I might have to buy a whole new wardrobe, as I’m sure nothing will fit anymore.
69) I might not be deathly afraid of mice.
70) I may appreciate that lizards eat all the other bugs I hate.
71) I may come to believe that climate control in a motor vehicle means ability to roll down the window.
72) I may hang curtains in the back seats of my next car, in order to keep out the sun and heat.
73) I may think that stickers of old men I don’t know are a valuable art form that should be displayed both in the house and all over my car.
74) I might be confused when the next election happens promptly and there are legitimate opposing candidates to the current president.
75) I might wear what you will assume to be my pajamas in public.
76) I might prefer large bulky metal jewelry that incorporates the shape of balls.
77) I may ask everyone I meet if they have a husband/ wife- and if not offer to set them up.
78) I might forget the meaning of personal space.
79) I may confuse a gay couple for brothers or sisters, because I might forget that gay is an actual preference and not something that “DOES NOT EXIST.”
80) I might repeat your last name 5 to 10 times when I see you because I think it is a sign of respect.
81) I may secretly text someone else if I decide to spend the night anywhere other than my house; and I will think it’s for my own safety.
82) I may expect to hear about public demonstrations and riots throughout the country via text message.
83) I might be confused if, when asked how you are. you reply with anything other than “I’m here” or “I’m in peace only.”
84) I may add an insane amount of sugar to my coffee, tea and juices.
85) I might find a way to add onions to every meal.
86) I might obsessively keep notes on blog ideas.
87) I might complain that US currency is not color and size coded.
88) I may tell you that you know nothing if you do not understand something I try to explain.
89) I may be nervous and panicked when left alone.
90) I may likely change all my cloths regardless of who is in the room, and without closing the door.
91) I might try to order café Touba (which tastes like a mixture of chai tea and coffee) at Starbucks.
92) I may complain that there is a serious lack of decent tailors.
93) I might assume that although you live near water, you have no idea how to swim.
94) I may sit on the floor when you have me over and tell me dinner is ready.
95) I might leave my shoes on when entering the house, but take them off when entering the sitting room.
96) I might be depressed when the power goes out, assuming I won’t be able to sleep at night.
97) I might have a stock pile of candles and matches, because I assume the power will go out.
98) I might take time off of work to celebrate holidays according to other religions.
99) I might be disappointed that I can’t go to church to listen to good music and tune out the rest.
100) I might miss Senegal.

Sunday, April 11

Have I Met A Guy???

A number of people have asked me if I’ve met a guy here. The short of it is, yes.
I’ve met the 6 men in my family, all my neighbors, the guys at the post and mayor’s office, the teachers at the school, the men who run the cyber café and even the friends of friends at the boutique. I’ve met them all, and quite frankly, the search for Mr. Right continues.

Some qualities I’ve figured out I don’t appreciate:
• asks me to marry him within 5 minutes of knowing him,
• has someone else ask me to marry him—ever,
• asks me for money,
• gets offended because I refuse to respond to cat calls,
• has no idea how to cook,
• thinks sweeping (or cleaning of any form) is beneath him,
• is under the impression I’m looking to spend the rest of my life financially supporting him,
• has, or believes in having, multiple wives,
• beeps me (calls and hangs up before I can answer) constantly and actually expects me to call back,
• thinks I’m an idiot just because I don’t speak his language,
• expects me to have children,

I think that covers most of my recent epiphanies, but what about the nice normal American guys in Peace Corps? It is true that there are decent men here; attractive, like-minded, and lacking qualities above. But alas, there are still barriers… Remember your last college relationship (where a date is getting drunk at a house party and going back to bunk beds to pass out) because that’s what dating a PCV is like… and I’ll pass. Am I alone here?

Sunday, April 4

Fishing

There are quite a lot of fish consumed in Senegal. Not by me, of course, but it’s a huge part of the country’s economy. So it’s only natural that fishing becomes a part of the tourism world as well. And although I wouldn’t call it a patriotic duty or anything, I definitely felt I had to try it out for myself.

Last weekend, my fellow volunteers and I rented another amazing house on the ocean front coast in the town of Popenguine. The volunteer that lives there organized a fishing trip with some of his friends in town. We woke up early on a Sunday morning and hiked across town to their launching point.

Set back a hundred feet from the shore were the wooden boats resting on logs in the sand between two houses. The boats are long and narrow, like gondolas. I’m sure there’s a better name for them, but I don’t know it. They’re painted vibrant primary colors with the name of the person who owns the boat and a year. A small motor, like the kind you’d use for canoe fishing, was brought out and attached to the back of the boat. It was secured with rope. With the help of about 20 Senegalese men, we pushed two boats out with 5 Americans and 2 Senegalese guides per boat into a very black ocean.

Motoring 12 kilometers west and directly into the ocean, we could hardly make out the shore between the mists. What looked like a four large hooks welded together to be thrown over a medieval castle wall yet to be scaled was actually thrown down to act as an anchor. I couldn’t tell you if it worked.

We sat neatly aligned up the middle of the boat on slabs of wood resting on ledges carved on each side. Leaning to one side caused the whole boat to rock; making movement a coordinated effort. 8x10 pieces of plywood were passed out which contained yards of fishing line wrapped lengthwise around it. At the end was a hook, followed by a weight, and another hook. Raw fish was brought as bait, diced up, and passed out. Luckily, I was able to ask a friend to bait for me.

We dropped our lines and started catching fish about 10 minutes later. I couldn’t tell you what kind, but they were grey and white and about 8 inches long. A line only stayed in for about 4 minutes before it would have to be brought up either with a fish or to remedy a lack of bait.

To pass the time, we chatted or spotted jelly fish floating by. They jelly fish were the size of an upside down cereal bowl. They were mostly red with white spots and white looking tentacles only a few inches long. They could only be seen when they were basically at the surface. They seemed to travel relatively alone- or we couldn’t see the others. And every time we saw one the camera couldn’t be unburied from its waterproof protection fast enough to catch the evidence.

We were told there was quite a current that prevented us from catching the big fish and in larger quantities… so we changed locations every so often. But the water was choppy, so within a short period of time 4 out of 5 Americans on our boat felt seasick and we decided to head back a bit early.

The rest of the afternoon was spent swimming, napping, and drinking beers on the porch while admiring the view. In the evening, we gutted and grilled the fish (about 9 total), and made yassa poulet (onion and vinegar sauce with white rice and chicken) and meatballs to soak up all the beer. In the evening we built a bonfire pit, took several attempts to create a roaring fire, set off rocket fireworks out of the empty beer bottles, and played beer pong. It was hands-down one of my favorite days in Senegal.