Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, May 30

Fun (Unsubstantiated) Tourism Facts

Facts I learned in Eco-Tourism Conference this past week. They were given by various departments of the Senegalese government, though we don't know how the information was collected and if any of it can be substantiated.

1) 800,000 potential tourists entered Senegal last year but only 34% spend the night.
2) 90% of tourists to Africa go to the Northern, Eastern, and Southern regions. 10% of tourists go to the Western and Central regions.
3) 50% of tourists come to Senegal for the beach.
4) 30% of tourists stay in Dakar; 30% stay in Thies.
5) Senegal plans to have capacity for over 2,000,000 visitors by 2020. 1,500,000 by 2015.
6) Tourism grows by 5% a year, but eco-tourism grows by 20 -34% a year.
7) Hotels are currently at 35% bed capacity now but expansion of hotels and resorts, etc continues in Senegal. Break even is at 30% bed capacity.
8) Bed capacity is a unit of measuring that comes from African culture of sharing everything. (Americans rent by the room, and then fill rooms). Rooms are rented by person by night, though you will get your own room if travelling alone.
9) 481 guides in Senegal have official government certification to be a guide.
10) 10 types of eco-tourism certifications exists for the lodging industry; 3 unique to Africa.

Wednesday, May 26

The Day The Music Died

Someone once asked me what I was most afraid of. I remember that I was far from home, traveling with my sister, and asked by a friend of a friend that I barely knew. I had never given much thought this; more serious people would probably say death or failure. And without thinking about it, just knowing it to be true, I replied that my biggest fear was a lack of good music.

Death and failure are certain. Their magnitude and exact moments may not be, but they themselves are inevitable. I know I will die one day. This is why I have legal documents drafted. And why I often tell my family and friends how I care for them. I also know that I will fail. I will fail to do well on a test, or fail to get a job. I will fail at a match of tennis, and I will fail to always please my father. But I’m sure that all the times I fail, I will pick myself up again and go on to do bigger and better things. Understand these certainties, do the best you can to work with them, but don’t bother being afraid.

So I fear a lack of music; the day the music died. Not the supposed day of a plane crash killing musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, as Don MacLean’s “American Pie” leads one to believe. I fear the day when I turn on the radio and can’t find a single station playing a single song I can appreciate. Without something enjoyable, the silence seems unbearably scary.

I think about how some of the most important things I’ve done with my life have been accompanied by my own mental sound track. When I spent a summer in California… I think of John Mayer driving on the highway. I think of not having a single picture from that summer because of the song 3x5. I think about his August concert at UC Berkley; the feel of the concrete stadium seats. I think of my favorite quote “Everybody is just a stranger, but that’s the danger in going my own way…”

When I spent a semester in Italy… I think of Linkin Park on a crowded bus where the old lady is surprised equally by the harshness of the music overflowing from my ears and my act of kindness in offering her my seat another language. Perhaps I’m just as surprised? Or walking the streets at night past unbelievable monuments listening to a playlist I’d made for a boyfriend long gone away, knowing that both the sites and the boy would be forever imprinted in my mind.

But it’s not just the big stepping stones. It’s the holidays and everydays. When I hear Taps, I remember the trumpets, piloted by friends, emanating from various locations in the cemetery on Memorial Day. I remember the grey clouds in the sky. And I feel the starch in my marching uniform. I feel sorrow for my long gone grandfather. Then there are the lyrics that, when heard, will transport me to a moment in time where I see someone else enjoying a birthday party, a special dinner, an afternoon in the car, a dance at prom…

And for every moment I can remember, there are so many more that are just barely forgotten. I know that throughout my life there have been so many countless moments where I was overcome with feeling because of a song. Or, even better, I was affected some other life stimulant… and became utterly content to find a song that perfectly matched that feeling.

But it isn’t just about the past. When I applied to Peace Corps, I kept telling them that music was my coping mechanism. “And, what else?” they’d say. I get that it’s not an end all- cure all but it’s a very powerful tool to have in the repertoire. When culture clashes, insects and reptiles, food, and heat threaten my inner cool… I resort to my headphones. When the states, my family and friends, and my previous life feels too far away to be real… I resort to my headphones. And it helps.

Music, a perfectly matched song, is like a companion; my best friend. When I am happy, it will share my enthusiasm. When I am alone, we are alone together. When I am angry, music will drum the anger away. When I am sad, it will compel me to pick myself up and sway. For every difficulty that I face, no matter where I rest my head on this earth, I know that music will follow. Or at least I can bring my headphones with me.

I suppose this means I'm not really afraid of anything... but I doubt that.

Sunday, May 23

Sept Place Satire

Asalam Malekum. I am your prophet, Mohammad. Bismillah (welcome) to the garage; the only place in town where you can catch a ride out of this place to somewhere you think will be cooler and less trash filled. You will be wrong, but we’ll send you there anyway. To start, my fellow garage companions and I will spend no less than 1 minute shouting the names of destinations in your ear inquisitively, even though you already know where you want to go, probably won’t change your mind, and the chances of us guess correctly are slim to none. Saint Louis? Tamba? Ziguinchor? Why don’t you consider these places for next time…?

Well, now that you’ve proclaimed your destination, I will try to take your bags to your car (which you probably already know the location of) and then ask you for money for having done so. And while we’re on the subject, my other friend here will try to overcharge you for your bags. Senegalese people generally don’t have to pay for one or two small bags. They’ll pay a small fee for the goat or chickens tied down in back, but that’s more for the trouble of seeking out the rope needed to do so. You however, with your pretty white skin that curiously makes me see green dollar bills, shall be asked to pay large sums for your bags. You’re good with that, right?

Moving on, I will now show to your seat. See, what we have here may look like a beat up station wagon, but we prefer to call it a sept place- French for seven places- which represents how many passengers will be accompanying our 12 year old driver (let’s call him Boy Wonder) to aforementioned destination. Though this vehicle was built over three decades ago, doors are puppeteered open and closed with strings, rust has consumed every ounce of metal, and the seats are devoid of both cushion and cover we are confident that with copious amounts of prier, a jug of water, and as little gas as possible you will make it to your destination. Safety will cost you extra, and isn’t actually available.

At this time I will offer you the very back seat, which comfortably fits no one but a small child, and we will be putting two very large assed women back there with you. How else do you expect to fit seven people in this car? You may ask yourself, “why the very back seat? It looks like all the other seats are open. There’s no one else here.” Well, we think it’s hilarious to put foreigners in the most uncomfortable situations possible and trust that you don’t have the language skills to argue with it. And since you’re a woman, don’t even think about asking for shotgun. It’s off limits. Those five old men sitting on the bench over there will spend the next hour screaming and yelling if a woman, a lesser being, took the best seat in the car. Especially if there is a deserving man who could possibly be more comfortable there.

Now that you’re settled uncomfortably in the back, you’ll have to wait for your other six passengers to arrive. This could take 5 minutes or 2 hours, it’s a crap shoot. In the mean time, why don’t you enjoy all the amenities the garage has to offer? From where you sit you can buy any of the following items from one of the passing vendors:
• Plastic bag of cold water
• Bananas
• Oranges or Clementines
• Tissues
• Razors
• Wallets
• Plastic toys for kids: gun, piano, etc
• Pillow
• Cookies
• Sunglasses
• Phone credit
• CD or DVD of local artist
• Peanuts or Cashews
• Hot cup of coffee
• Mini flavored ice cream packets

If you think you don’t want any of these items, please don’t make eye contact with either the person selling them or the goods themselves. Doing so will cause great confusion, and the seller will likely spend the rest of your wait outside your window knocking the goods into it to get your attention. If this doesn’t work, perhaps they will reach through the open trunk and tap you on the shoulder. However, if for whatever reason no one is around to sell you the goods you seek, small children can be sent to bring the sellers to you.

And for entertainment, we have little boys and decrepit old men to sing unrecognizable songs or priers. They will not be in tune. If you put on headphones the singers will perform louder and more off key. Tips are expected, though rarely given. If you ignore the small boys they will likely touch you or press their faces against the window- staring into your ear for an uncomfortable period of time. On a similarly amusing subject, my friend has decided he is in love with you. He believes your dream come true is to be his third wife. Even if you have a husband or boyfriend, even if he supposedly lives here in Senegal, its fine; you can still marry.

Hurray, your fellow passengers have arrived, loaded themselves and their baggage into the vehicle, and purchased their merchandise. This man you have never seen before has climbed backward into the driver’s seat and demands you pay the toll. He looks exactly like the other 30 people who’ve asked you for money in the last half hour. But, if you don’t have exact change, you better be the first to hand over your money so that he can make change from other passengers. Because otherwise some other person you’ve yet seen will take your bill and go running off across the garage. You will never see this guy again. The toll man will exit the vehicle, Boy Wonder will get in and start the engine, maybe even start to roll forward, and in whatever language you can muster you’ll ask for your change. This is futile; Boy Wonder will not respond. If you start to get agitated, loud, restless… your car-mates will laugh, but Boy Wonder will not respond.

What you don’t know, couldn’t possibly have figured, is that although the car is in motion, and it seems as though you’re about to embark on the journey, your happy family of 7- plus Boy Wonder- is far from ready for departure. Next stop is the gas station just on the edge of the garage. People will be running alongside the car all the way there, discussing things you won’t understand. It’s certainly not your change they speak of, but there will be coins and little slips of paper passed back and forth. When the hand off is done, and a minimum amount of gas procured, your change will magically appear. At this point you’ll be pissed you didn’t go for the cool plastic bag of water as you’ve exhausted your voice demanding said change- but you’ll learn.

The time has come; you’re off. This is the point when I leave you with just a few more interesting points for your trip. Before actually leaving town the car will stop at the market because someone else has purchased something small, like a sandwich, that couldn’t have possibly been carried to the garage. It’s completely necessary to stop and retrieve it. Also, Boy Wonder will park outside of the pharmacy for ten minutes, disappear inside without explanation, and leave you all in the car. The windows don’t roll down without a screw driver (which isn’t kept in the car) so if you didn’t do so before leaving the garage this is only the beginning of the sauna you’ll be experiencing on the trip. Pull the weakly installed thin black curtain over your portion of the window; it will help with direct sunlight. Don’t complain. Boy Wonder will not care when he gets back to the car.

Once finally on the open road, one finds a preference to taking the sand alongside the road. It’s more of a complete surface; potholes are only half that of the paved portion located next door. There is no speed limit, luckily, giving Boy Wonder a chance to drive way too fast in order to constantly test the breaks by slamming on them- thus avoiding the animals or small children crossing the path. Someone with a touch of genius did think to put unmarked speed bumps down. Boy Wonder will know where they are if he’s a frequent traveler of this road… which he isn’t. What’s unfortunate is that he will be too afraid to pass any vehicle twice his size, but this won’t stop anyone else on the road from passing the both your car and the larger one, if not more, at the same time.

In addition, we built our roads for maximum hassle. The lines painted on there are for artisanal purposes; they have no other meaning to Boy Wonder or anyone else on the road. The lanes are too wide for just one car anyway. And we’ve randomly increased and decreased the number of lanes all along the major roadways… in an effort to confuse Boy Wonder. Good news about the horrendous traffic jams this creates is that more vendors will be available to sell you things. They’ll run alongside the car, jump in front of busses, and generally slow things down further than necessary. And they don’t have change.

And sometime after you’re dehydrated from sweating out every ounce of water, decided an hour ago that you must have shat your pants because the driver won’t stop for a break, and know about every known male in the car, or related to someone in the car, who might be interested in marrying you…, you will arrive at your destination. Fellow passengers will start to get out of the car along the route to the garage, but you won’t know where you are. Boy Wonder doesn’t know either, he won’t explain.

So now that’s really it. You should give me money for explaining all this, but your mp3 player would work too. I am hungry and need to feed my family. Do you want to be my wife? Because I love you. No? Well, good luck then and see you next time, my friend.

Wednesday, May 19

Meeting

This past Saturday, I went to an event where I served no purpose. This isn’t new. I’m fairly certain I am invited to these things as both a courtesy to myself and to act as the token white person (somewhere between the “token black guy” made fun of in movies and a trophy wife.) But this isn’t really the point.

I was originally told about an event involving women’s groups and food security projects. The 3rd counselor to the mayor told me about the event, as she is in charge of women’s groups in town. It was supposed to be the previous weekend, but somehow got pushed back to this one. Then I heard people were coming from Dakar. I was in the office when people began toting in mass amounts of fruits and vegetables… “For display?”

I was told to come back Saturday morning before 8a and to be dressed in my nice Senegalese cloths. I did this… all the way to the office I was harassed because of my dress. It’s semi normal to see a white person in my town. It’s not normal to see them dressed like Africans. Cat calls, derogatory slurs, and full body checks. Great start to my day. As if things could get better, when I got to the office people found the most impolite ways of ordering me around, do something for them in preparation. In typical Senegalese fashion, no one was prepared and everyone was running around printing last minute signs, setting up breakfast tables, and organizing food preparation.

The men sat around doing nothing, also typical, while the women did the heavy lifting, literally. After shuffling down stairs with a rather large heavy box, getting laughed at for my lack of grace, I couldn’t take it and spoke up. “You’re sitting only.” Yes. “This box is heavy, you should help me.” They laughed. I left the box sitting there. I figured if someone wanted to sit their ass down on that seat, then they can move it themselves. This is a fine example of typical lazy old man syndrome.

Anyway, things eventually got around to starting, once the caravan from Dakar arrived. Come to find out, our guests consisted of the entire mayor’s office of a city called Dalifort located just on the edge of Dakar. Newly separated from Dakar, this delegation was looking to Mboro to act as a sister to help them develop as a city; a twinning of the two cities, as they say in French. The event kicked off with introductions, photos, and prier. Followed was a tour of the mayor’s office and breakfast. At this point, only the top council to the mayor from my town stuck around. All the lazy old men left (thanks for nothing). Everyone else went on a tour of Mboro: see the different neighborhoods, the youth center, and the women’s group food transformation plant. I too ducked out of this, but only to head to other meetings I had scheduled for the day.

When I was available to join the party once more, I caught up with them at the country club lounge in the western neighborhood we have left over in town from the days of westerners running the factory. We’re talking air conditioning, white linens… the works. Apparently they’d split into groups to discuss the 3 different facets of the project proposal: health, education, and sports/culture (apparently this had nothing to do with women’s groups as I was originally told). I was starting to get the impression they had chosen these general areas at almost random (though they are important) as a method of developing committees to figure out how to work together.

When these sub committees had been formed, and topics discussed, we had lunch. This was done at my counterpart (according to Peace Corps)’s house also located in the same community. The food was amazing, yassa with mountains of vegetables and two whole chickens per bowl. I ate with our mayor, the mayor of Daliford, and two other men. There was so much food. Afterward we enjoyed pieces of cut fruit with cool lumpy sugar milk and guava juice. In an uncharacteristically Senegalese fashion, we did not sit around long after lunch- there was no siesta- but instead when back to the club room to continue meetings.

The afternoon session consisted of what started as a short summary of the committees’ progress given by one member from each team… but quickly turned into a debate. Anyone who wasn’t a part of the presenting committee had something to say about it. What was important, and what wasn’t. In the end, I’m fairly certain that this process took longer than the committees themselves had spent discussing their own topics. Interesting way of going about it, I suppose, but I can’t say I haven’t seen that in the corporate first world.

At some point, I was called aside and “dismissed.” We were wrapping up, I was told, and it wasn’t necessary for me to stay around anymore. What it ever necessary? And I thought to myself on the walk back to my own neighborhood that I don’t know how much was really going to be accomplished by this twinning of cities. By the end of the last discussion, everyone had seemed to come to the agreement that this year each city would continue its activities as normal; however the other city would be invited to attend and be privy to information concerning the management of those activities.

And this is how one describes a formal meeting to organize future formal meetings, or more concisely starting a project in Senegal.

Wednesday, May 12

Teaching in Senegal

I’ve begun teaching non-English related classes. It started with computer and software related ones, but more recently has transformed into larger scale business concepts. I’ve been doing this at the local NGO, Project Help (I believe I’ve mentioned them quite a few times already now…).

I was really nervous for the first class I taught: introduction to computers. Sounds pretty dumb looking back on it; I could’ve just spend the whole class answering questions and showing them how to use the mouse. Instead, I wanted to be professional and organize my thoughts. I created an outline to keep myself on topic, complete with fun computer facts and notes on things I could explain during practice exercises. I even went so far as to wear a dress shirt and my nice black pants (on a particularly hot day in the “cool” season). The class was fine, and the outline helpful. I was able to teach more than they thought they wanted to know. I was asked to continue teaching.

So I made it a habit to organize myself like this. I’ve taught a few more classes there, on using the internet and a series of Microsoft Word, with accompanying outlines. But no amount of planning can aid the problems I’ve had keeping class schedules and starting said classes on-time. It got to the point where I woke up early one Saturday morning, walked across town in my dress cloths, only to wait around for students that never came. Well, to be fair, the man who organized the class came in 15 minutes late, greeted me, and left without mentioning class or saying goodbye. Needless to say, I was a bit upset, and I took a break from teaching computer classes.

As of late, I organized a GERME (system for teaching business in Africa) class to serve as a pilot, after which we’d evaluate the possibility of creating a series of classes specially tailored for my town and taught by yours truly. I spent days working on the outline, which would cover two different GERME topics of “finding your business idea” and “creating your business,” taking the meaty portions and creating a kickass hybrid for budding entrepreneurs. When I finished I figured my class would take two whole days to teach, and that I probably shouldn’t go it alone. So I called in reinforcements, in the form of a Senegalese trainer for the Peace Corps who is well versed in GERME practices and owning successful businesses.

From there I was well advised to sit back and watch his methods. I sent him my outline, but he’d taught the class before and had his own ideas. He didn’t need my silly notes, though I’m mildly confident most of my topics were covered in the end. He spent more time on areas of interest I would’ve never thought important, and less on the ones I thought would be rather difficult to get across. He brought print outs… making me wish I had the budget to do so for each of my classes.

The students loved it. My trainer was so charismatic and entertaining. They sang Wolof songs at every break. And by the end I’d never seen Senegalese people so excited to continue this learning method. They scheduled a follow up meeting for the next business day. And then they didn’t show up for it.

I asked one of the coordinators what was going on, and they said maybe in July. I told one of my friends that the next time he asked me to a meeting, that he himself didn’t show up for, I would make him pay me cab fare for the trip across town and back. I have no lessons learned, judgments, or purpose to this story. I’m merely describing what I’ve been doing lately; how I fill my days and what it’s like teaching classes in Senegal.

Sunday, May 9

A Poor Volunteer

Understatement of the year: I’ve been slowly getting to know the people of my town. Learning about a Senegalese person can be as painstaking as peeling away the layers of an onion. It takes a while and you wish there was an easier way or that the onion would do the work itself and just show you the insides. Wait, that sounds weird, and I’m referring to the Senegalese and their individual personalities. I wish they could be as direct as Americans about who they are: values and morals, likes and dislikes. For as open as they are about religion and politics, it’s amazing that almost everything else is guarded precious information. Or maybe it’s just easier that most people are Muslim and dislike the current president… general consensus.

But that’s something to discuss later. This story is about a particular gentleman in town that I have to admit I know little about. Or at least that’s the impression I get after each encounter. I first met this man at a local non-profit organization in town called Projet Jappoo, which translated means Project Help, where I assumed he was an employee, a trainer/ educator to the people. And these people I admire, because they search out the needs of the community, and help implement the plans to fulfill the needs.

Every day I see this man, he is kind, happy, and pleasant. He asks about my day and genuinely seems to care; there is something different in his eyes when asks, like he fully expects the truth. He has not once asked if I am married, or looking, or attached. He doesn’t probe me with questions, but smiles at every passing.
Recently, I’ve been working on a scholarship program, in which every girl in the program wins the school fees for the next year, but one lucky girl wins money to buy school supplies. When I started the process, I met with the girls after school the first few times. I announced the program, and explained to them how special they were for being the top girls in their grade level. The next day, while hosting training at Projet Jappoo, this man approached me with the usual grin. He told me his daughter came home saying she was one of the winners. She was so happy, and the family was so proud of her. You could see it in his face that he hadn’t known this about his daughter and how proud of her he is.

The application process for the “grand prize” entails me to visit each girl’s home to meet the family and check out their level of financial need. I was initially concerned because I figured this girl wouldn’t need to win the money, what with her Dad having such a great job with the NGO. But her application says her Dad doesn’t work, and when asked about it he will say he’s a volunteer. Furthermore, when I went to the house I was blown away. The house is the evidence. It feels wrong to disclose everything that is lacking in comparison to my African home. To say the least, the door to the compound is a gap in sheet metal propped up as fencing. There was one piece of furniture that I saw, a wardrobe that housed everything from cloths to kitchen supplies. And while talking to the family I sat in a sparse room on a thin slice of foam padding with a prier mat laid on top. I genuinely believe this to be someone’s bed. I wanted to cry.

But this man was so happy. He was so proud that I had come to his home. Smiling non-stop, exited to tell me about his daughter. When I asked her the interview questions, he seemed genuinely interested in her answers. He told me at one point that he didn’t want to influence her answers, but want to make sure that I got to hear her opinion.

Let me stop right here. This in itself is a big deal. I feel like I’m living in a culture where children are not important. We believe them to be the future… which is why we have the whole “women and children first” mantra. But here, men are most important. They are more respected, smarter, stronger, and have the ability to earn more money. Children are viewed as workers who are stupid, and should be beaten if they don’t know the answer to something. They don’t have opinions.

So back to this man who wants to hear his daughter’s opinions… I’m still kind of in shock. After all my questions had been answered, I began to explain how I wanted to continue to work with the scholarship girls to help them plan their futures and realize there goals/ dreams. And that’s when this man started to tell me about an organization he’d formed.

He was divorced you see (something I’ve never heard of in Senegal- and generally get bizarre and confused looks when I say my parents have done this) and his former wife and son live Dakar. So he started an organization to help the young kids of the area who are in a similar position. In his words, he is saddened when parents are separated, and the kids live with the father and his other wives. When the other wives are the heads of household, and they don’t like the other woman’s kids, this can be very damaging for the abandoned kids, psychologically of course. He receives word of these children and finds ways to help them. I have no idea how (onion thing, maybe I’ll figure it out someday).

I told him that I was working with the Mayor’s office to organize other non-profits to help the people of Mboro who have great ideas, but no means to implement them. I invited him to stop by and discuss his project with my counterparts there. He continued to tell me about another group that is working to educate local farmers about the problems of using pesticides… and perhaps we can find a way to help with that as well. The most important thing he told me was his belief that everyone needs to open their hearts to new people and cultures. I told him I believed that every culture had its good and bad traits, and that I believe if we learn all the good things about as many cultures as possible the world would be a better place. He hadn’t thought about it like that before, but definitely agrees with me.

What is the point of all this? As I was walking home, I was thinking to myself about what an American would consider an outstanding citizen. My family tells me Peace Corps Volunteers make that list (though my personal jury is still out). Others might say its medical professionals that join programs like Doctors Without Borders. I would argue that anyone who does pro bono work (lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc) would make my list. If you volunteer your time, your life to helping people who really need it… then that should make you an outstanding citizen.

In the states we typically follow a pattern of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs… where it’s a safety and food first, then self fulfillment. And help ourselves before we can help others. But how big does that safety and food blanket need to be? If this were apples to apples, and Senegal also followed Maslow, then it needs to be said that the level of comfort is much higher in the states that I’ve found in Senegal. But I know different, the Senegalese are a socialist society in that they share everything when needed. Everyone needs to have safety and food before anyone can move on to self fulfillment… not that I have any idea how or what they would consider that to be.

So while an American might consider this man to be strange or worse- lazy, because he and his family are so blatantly poor, but isn’t it possible we could be wrong? The family is clearly getting by. They have food and shelter… and beyond that they have happiness. No, the father does not work to support the family (nor do I really know the circumstances behind this fact), but they are proud of the work he does to help their community. He is a volunteer by Senegalese standards, and a top notch citizen in my book.

Wednesday, May 5

Party!

I finally hosted my first party in Africa. A number of things came together just so… and a good time was had by all.

Last year about this time, the volunteers in my area decided to spend a day walking from one volunteer’s site to Mboro, as the crow flies, and ending up on the beach. The trip is somewhere around 20 miles. A few guys participated and they celebrated with beers at the end. A number of people showed interest in repeating the activity… but wanted to have a bigger celebration party at the end of the line. The volunteer whose site serves as the kick off point for the march is celebrating a birthday this past weekend… so, many more volunteers were invited to the after party on the beach in honor of said birthday.

It was left to me to organize a house on the beach where we could have a great time, and spend the night. I told my Dad weeks in advance I’d need to do this, and he promised to help by talking to one of my predecessor’s friends (who knew someone who knew someone…). We were looking for a house that could sleep 15 and was reasonably priced. A week out Dad and I went to look at a house. It was a 3 bedroom, with living, kitchen, bonfire, rooftop, and pavilion areas… not to mention the western toilet and shower. Only problem was that they renter wanted a lot of money for the house, more so than one would pay in an actual resort town, and was claiming it was because of the cost of bringing water and power from town down to the beach. Hmm… begin purchasing negotiations.

That week ended with the impression that we had secured the house I’d seen for just over half the original asking price, and a deposit was paid to secure it. This week I was focused on putting on a 2 day long class in town, and wasn’t too worried about the house or organization. When 4 other volunteers showed up Friday morning for the 2nd day of class, I got more excited to show off my town. That afternoon we started the shopping for the Mexican salad we were to make for the party. Pounds and pounds of veggies were organized. Drinks were reserved, as well as ice sellers located.
Saturday my father was working the morning shift at the factory, but we called him to arrange a car to take us down to the beach early. That’s when mass confusion started to become apparent. Turns out we’d actually rented another house near the original one. This one didn’t have much in the way of kitchen supplies. Mom was gracious enough to let us raid our family kitchen for pots, pans, bowls, strainers, utensils, and even a cake pan. We secured lunchtime sandwiches, meat for dinner, ice, and 9 jugs of 10 liter filtered water before the driver was schedule to pick us up. However, when he arrived with possibly the smallest car in town, my mother was kind enough to negotiate 2 trips down to the beach for a decent price. The beer was loaded first, then I and 2 other girls, and some of the other supplies and away we went...

The driver had not been informed of where our house was. I directed him to the first house I’d seen, which was “next to” the new one. The guard at that house had no idea what was meant by “next to” and we began more mass confusion. We unloaded all our stuff into the sand, and the driver went back for the other girls and the rest of our supplies. I pulled up a chair with the guard and our food and ice while the girls I’d come down with went off to find our house. Unfortunately, when they got back they reported that our house had no water or electricity. Not acceptable. I called Dad in a panic (for probably the 5th time already that day) and asked him to call the first guy and see if we could have the house I’d originally seen and was currently sitting outside of (with all of our melting ice). At this point, we didn’t care if he was over charging us, and I just wanted my friends to have a good time. While waiting for him to get back to me, the second car load arrived, another renter appeared out of nowhere soliciting girls to check out his house, and two more volunteers arrived from elsewhere in Senegal to start partying. Our driver tried to demand more money claiming we had too much baggage… but wouldn’t be respectful enough to listen to my argument as to why I disagreed. So I told him to fuck off and refused to acknowledge him after that. He eventually left, and my not-so-finest moment passed. I continued to sit with the ice.

When Dad got off work he drove straight to us stranded foreigners on the beach. Some Wolof was thrown around, and Dad said he needed to go find the guy who could rent us the house we sat outside of, but in the mean time we could bring everything in and relax- he’d be right back. And he would work out changing the deposit around so that we wouldn’t lose it. After dragging everything in, beers were cracked and food preparation was started. That first beer went down so fast it was gone by the time Dad got back with more Senegalese guys in tow.

Sheets were dragged out of storage, the cooking gas was refilled, and money was organized for another trip made by Dad to town for supplies (more ice, more water, and gas to work the water pump). Dad would be back in a few hours. The 6 people who’d walked the 20 plus miles arrived in tact; dehydrated and tired but proud. Their walk had been successful. Salsa, guacamole, and tortilla chips were served. It was like heaven without the euchre. There was even birthday cake- which never technically made it off the oven rack (pulled out of the oven) before we devoured it hot with spoonfuls of melting icing. 3 other volunteers also arrived. A hookah was set up and enjoyed. We continued to party and cook food.

When Dad did come back he brought everything we’d asked for plus my Mom and 4 youngest brothers. I was really proud to show off my family as the boys carried all the supplies in from the car and my Mom became a social butterfly while Dad got the water pump running (does this sound anything like my childhood to anyone else???). But after introductions and chatting a bit, my family had to take off to continue with their own Saturday night plans.

The cooking continued. In what was the first and probably last time in my life that I hosted a party and had minimum, if not zero, contribution to the food. I was there when we bought it. I did offer to help, but the girls of the Thies region were on top of it all. It was incredibly relaxing; mostly because it means I wasn’t stressed, but also possibly because I don’t like Mexican food so that would have added to normal food preparation chaos. They did an amazing job of cooking beans and rice over a gas tank with one pot. They fried up ground beef and diced more veggies than I could imagine. They even bleached the lettuce so that we had an end result of the tastiest Mexican salad I’ve had in quite a long time. We all over ate and I give special thanks to the chefs.

Around dusk it became apparent that somehow the electricity wasn’t working. We called my Dad in a panic again (this may have been the 12th time already that day?). He and Mom came back out. We gave them food. My mom (who’d been interested in this so called Mexican food that was not the Chile my predecessor had made) was delighted and asked me to make it for the family another time. Then Dad once again focused on fixing our party to perfection. Turns out the solar panel that normally powered the house had not been set up to charge during the day as the house wasn’t scheduled to be rented… so it was empty. Batteries were found to power portable LED lights and something somewhere was jury rigged so that we could power the speakers for our music. I tried to stay out of the chaos while the importance of music was communicated to my family. My mom did mention later that usually they have drum circles at their parties on the beach… and that’s why they don’t have to bother with electricity and speakers of their own. Thanks, but we do it like crazy Americans. When all was right with the world, my parents took off for the last time (and yes, we stopped calling them). The dance party got started. And for the guys who didn’t enjoy that, we brought in an incredibly large communal table for beer pong.

And if that weren’t enough, at some point we decided it was time for a dip in the ocean. I threw on my bathing suit and headed for the beach. There wasn’t a moon in sight and the trudge through the sand wasn’t easy in the near total darkness, but as we hiked within in eye sight of the ocean all we needed to see became apparent. Each wave rolling in seemed to be radiating white light. Then as it crashed into the shore the light would spread across the sand in the most hypnotic way until it faded moments later. The ocean was literally glowing! Someone who enjoys biology would tell you that it was bio-luminescent microbes or something like that, but none of that mattered. The water was somewhere between just cool enough to be refreshing and warm. And each wave splashed us with tiny twinkling lights like nothing I’ve ever seen before. After falling down in the waves too many times I stood for a few extra minutes on the shore just staring, but eventually it was time to get back to the party.

And that’s when flip cup started… and shortly after that we ran out of beer. Although we did try to solicit the house guard to buy us some more from the neighbors, he came back with only a liter of soda. Hmm. It didn’t matter; we were sufficiently happy and entertained. I stayed up dancing and talking to fellow volunteers a bit longer before passing out sometime around 2am.

The next day I was in a bad place. A cold plus a hangover equals a totally useless member of the cleaning crew. Luckily I seemed to be the worst of it… even the walkers were doing better than me. Maybe they’d paid more attention to hydration. In any case, the house got put back together and volunteers began to trickle out. My Dad came and drove the rest of them to the garage… then came back for Christine, Chris, myself, the pots and pans, and the rest of the water we didn’t drink. We left the empty bottles there and Dad (amazing miracle worker that he is) arranged for a car to go back, load up the bottles, and return them to the boutique by the house.

I can’t wait to have another party as even though at times it felt like a disaster and I couldn’t apologize enough, it was a great experience. One made all that much better by the support I didn’t know I had from my African family. I hadn’t realized just how a part of the family I’d become until I needed them. And they were there.

Sunday, May 2

Purchasing Power

For all my fellow purchasing peoples, I submit the cost of various items in Senegal, based on current exchange rate of 491 CFA (XOF for currency watchers) per 1 USD. I’m open to further requests if you have interest in other prices, just leave a comment.

FOOD:
• Bananas 1,000 CFA for a kilo (6 bananas) $2.04
• Olive Oil 4,375 CFA for 34 fl oz $8.91
• Can of Coke 350 CFA for a 12 oz can $0.71
• Beer 600 CFA for 67cl $1.22
• Ground Beef 1,500 CFA for a tube like you’d get in the US $3.05
• Onions 400 CFA for a kilo $0.81
• Tomatoes 400 CFA for a kilo $0.81
• Green Pepper 100 CFA for a kilo $0.20

CLOTHING
• Guess Jeans 79,000 CFA a pair $160.90
• Leather bracelet 500 CFA for a small women’s $1.02
• Cheap Flip Flops 500 CFA for a pair $1.02
• New Skirt 3,800 for a knee length simple skirt with pockets; tailor made $7.74
• Senegalese Fabric 1,000 for 2 meters (commissions pants, skirt, or simple sundress) $2.04

TOILETRIES/ MEDS
• Toilet Paper 910 CFA for 4 rolls $1.85
• French Penicillin 5,600 CFA for 3 days of pills $11.41
• Contact Solution 7,000 CFA for a large bottle $14.26
• Condom 50 CFA $0.10
• Toothpaste 1,000 CFA for a tube $2.04
• Shampoo 1,200 CFA for 17.6 fl oz $2.44

TRAVEL/ VACATION
• Cab Ride 100 CFA from any point in town to another along one road $0.20
• Rental House on Beach 35,000 CFA per night $71.28
• Overnight Bus 10,000 CFA from Dakar to Kedegou (farthest city); over 700km. $20.37
• Sept Place to Dakar 1,900 CFA Mboro to Dakar $3.87